Sunday, March 28, 1999

Crosby, Collins cases echo from shooting death

Critics ask what police have learned

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The March 19 fatal shooting of Michael Carpenter by Cincinnati officers has set off a series of police and community investigations and has posed the first major challenge for the city's new police chief.

        Two weeks into his tenure, two of Chief Thomas Streicher Jr.'s officers opened fire on a man they said tried to run them over during a traffic stop.

        The death has prompted community unrest and many of the same questions as two cases that spark emotions just by the mention of their names: Pharon Crosby and Lorenzo Collins.

        When Chief Streicher's predecessor, Michael Snowden, held the job, those two names were synonymous with the biggest controversies in his administration.

        Mr. Crosby's 1995 arrest, later televised, ignited charges against police of racism and brutality. And the 1997 case of Mr. Collins, who was fatally shot after charging at police with a brick, generated complaints over the ability of police to police themselves.

        “In this job, it could happen at any time,” Fraternal Order of Police President Keith Fangman said of the controversies. “It just so happens that he (Chief Streicher) has had to face a critical moment very early on. But that's just part of the job.”

        Chief Streicher has been through difficult situations before. His own career includes fatally shooting a suspect in self-defense during a 1980 drug arrest.

        The chief called his first press conference Wednesday, explaining why Officers Brent McCurley and Michael B. Miller II shot Mr. Carpenter, of Mount Airy. He said the officers feared for their lives.

        Officer McCurley was back on the job Thursday night, and Officer Miller was expected to return after treatment for a back injury police say he suffered being dragged by the car.

        The chief has expressed sympathy to Mr. Carpenter's family, and he said he's ready to address community concerns.

        Meanwhile, plenty of people are lining up to be heard at prayer vigils and in protest.

        “It's really put our new police chief on the spot,” said Sharon Armstrong, governmental and church liaison for the neighborhood group Building Better Communities.

        “That's an awkward position for him to be in, but he is the man the city chose for the job,” she said. “He has the experience. I'm sure he'll be fair. But I do know we have a lot of angry citizens.”

        Some of that anger showed Friday in a downtown protest calling for the Justice Department to investigate Mr. Carpenter's shooting.

        The police division's homicide and internal investigation units and the city's independent Office of Municipal Investigations (OMI) already are conducting reviews.

        OMI was created in 1971, when critics insisted the police couldn't investigate themselves. CPAC was created after the Crosby arrest, when critics again said the police couldn't investigate themselves.

        Another layer of scrutiny — a citizen review board — was just approved in the aftermath of the Collins shooting. But the panel is not yet formed because not enough people have volunteered to be on it.

        To the Rev. Solomon Prophett of Rose Chapel Missionary Baptist Church in Avondale, this uproar is a reminder of the Collins situation, which divided police and critics in the black community.

        “Haven't we learned anything since then?” he said. “It really got to my heart to see another young man shot down.”

        Critics point to the youth of the police division and training as weak spots.

        About 70 percent of the 1,000-member police force has fewer than 10 years of experience. Ted Schoch, the police academy's training commander, says the division uses each instance of police firing at suspects as a training tool.

        There always is room for improvement in the division's relationship with people in the neighborhoods, Officer Fangman said.

        “I think dialogue is the key,” he said. “Any time I've met with community groups on the issue, I've found that we share common ground.”


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