Tuesday, November 18, 2003

City police exonerated in gun ruling

U.S. magistrate: No pattern of improper pointing

By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Forty-six complaints of Cincinnati police officers pointing their guns at people over three years is not a "pattern" of improper firearm use, a federal magistrate has ruled.

The ruling, by U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael R. Merz, means that Cincinnati police officers will not have to report each time they unholster their firearms under the 2002 Collaborative Agreement on police reform.

"There were undoubtedly many uses of firearms in the hundreds of thousands of police-citizen contacts in the relevant time period," Merz wrote in a nine-page opinion. "What we do know is that those 800,000 police-citizen contacts produced 80,000 arrests but only 46 reports of improper firearms use. If there were an improper pattern of firearms pointing, that many police-citizen contacts and arrests should have generated far more complaints."

Merz's ruling came Friday, the same day that a University of Cincinnati study on traffic stop data found inconclusive evidence of racial profiling by police.

To Roger Webster, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, the ruling represents a second straight vindication of officer conduct.

"We're not an invading, Nazi Gestapo," he said. "We're not out there sticking guns in everybody's face."

The ACLU, which brought the class-action racial profiling lawsuit that led to the Collaborative Agreement, had argued that the pattern was enough to warrant further monitoring. Specifically, it wanted officers to file a report each time they removed their weapons - a step the FOP vigorously opposed.

"Ultimately, it's the magistrate-judge's decision," said ACLU attorney Scott Greenwood. "This shows that the process (in the Collaborative Agreement) for working out differences is working."

Merz's decision turned on the word "pointing." Police often remove their guns from their holsters and keep them at a "low ready" position - pointed at the ground - in risky situations.

But the Collaborative Agreement only required him to determine whether police engaged in a "pattern of improper pointing of firearms at citizens."

"The difference between seeing a gun at low ready and having it 'pointed' at you are significant and implicit in the ordinary meaning of the word 'pointed,' " Merz wrote. "This is not to say that unholstering a firearm has no significance or should not be governed by strict policy or is not subject to abuse."


E-mail gkorte@enquirer.com

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