Sunday, December 7, 2003

Preventing the next Jones case


If the investigations prove Cincinnati police officers did everything correctly in the Nathaniel Jones case, it will be scant comfort to the Jones family. When a police operation goes by the book but still comes to a bad end, it is time to figure out a way to improve the book.

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Send us your thoughts

One way that might be accomplished, according to Police Chief Thomas Streicher, is to equip all officers with a new model Taser - a stun gun designed to subdue out-of-control suspects.

The video image of the unarmed Jones being beaten by club-wielding officers will be with us for a long time. The official explanation is that the officers were following procedure. They hit Jones on the legs, hips, back and sides, nerve centers where blows should have incapacitated him. They were careful not to strike his head, the chief said. The coroner's report confirms this. But Jones was obese, and the blows didn't seem to reach his nerve centers.

However, the tremendous struggle, combined with his weight, his drug intoxication and his enlarged heart to bring on a fatal heart attack, according to the coroner.

Armed with the Tasers that Streicher wants, the officers might have been able to step back, zap him once and instantly imobilize him. By the time the shock wore off a few minutes later, Jones could have been handcuffed and on his way to jail or the hospital.

Older model Tasers were recently pulled from use by the department because they were deemed undependable, inaccurate and a danger to their users and the targets, the chief said. Equipping the force with the new models will take time, and about $1 million, he said. The department is working on a grant.

The city should expedite this process and provide officers with the new Tasers, and any other improved equipment and training that might be out there, as soon as possible. There is no guarantee that such equipment would have prevented what happened last Sunday. Perhaps Jones would have overpowered the officer before he could fire. Perhaps the jolt from a Taser would have brought on his heart attack. We can never know.

But we do know there are lessons to be learned from this case and improvements to be made. We must learn those lessons if we hope to keep this outcome from happening again.

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