Tuesday, December 2, 2003

City changed procedures

By Dan Horn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Nathaniel Jones is the first person to die in Cincinnati police custody since the November 2000 death of Roger Owensby Jr.

Click to view an Acrobat PDF file (168k) showing a detailed timeline of the police encounter with Nathaniel Jones.
(Randy Mazzola infographic)
Although the cases bear some striking similarities - both men died shortly after a scuffle with police in a parking lot - much has changed in the city and in the police department during the past three years.

Three days of rioting in April 2001 were the driving force for change. The riots, which followed the shooting death of an unarmed African-American, led to a federal investigation and a historic settlement with the Justice Department that changed the way Cincinnati officers do their jobs:

• As part of the settlement, community activists and the Fraternal Order of Police signed a "collaborative agreement" promising they'd work together to improve police-community relations.

• Police agreed to improve their reporting of use-of-force incidents, to revamp their guidelines for using force, and to improve training and procedures.

• A revamped citizens review board, the Citizen Complaint Authority, was established to review complaints about police, ranging from discourtesy to racial profiling to fatal shootings.

• The city agreed in May to pay $4.5 million to 16 plaintiffs who had accused police of stopping and searching them because of their race. It is the largest legal settlement in the city's history.

The collaborative agreement has survived despite repeated conflicts between the police union and community activists. Some activists have pulled out of the deal and the police union has threatened to do so.

Police policy

Cincinnati police policy requires officers to use only the amount of physical force necessary to subdue or control a suspect.

The department's policy, approved by the U.S. Department of Justice, includes a "use of force continuum" that shows how officers should respond to an escalating threat.

The officers' options include:

Verbal skills - The first choice is to use no physical force at all. Officers are trained to "talk down" unruly suspects with clearly stated commands.

Chemical irritant - Pepper spray may be used when necessary to make an arrest or to protect the officer or others from physical harm.

Baton - This weapon is for use against suspects who are violent or actively resisting arrest. Officers are trained to strike the legs, arms and torso.

Taser - This device shocks suspects with an electric charge, temporarily immobilizing them. Not all officers are trained to use Tasers.

Deadly force - Officers are authorized to use deadly force only when they face an attack that they "reasonably believe ... will result in serious physical harm and/or death."

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