Friday, October 08, 1999

Police adopt new rules on shooting at vehicles

FOP calls policy danger to officers

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cincinnati police have adopted new rules governing when and how officers may use their guns — particularly when a moving car or truck is involved.

        The revised policy, which goes into effect Sunday, has raised the ire of the Fraternal Order of Police, which says the restrictions threaten the lives of officers and citizens in deadly situations.

  • Revised — Moving vehicles: Officers shall not discharge their firearms from or at a moving vehicle or its occupants unless the occupants are using deadly physical force against the officer or another person present, by means other than the vehicle.
  • Replaced — Moving vehicles: Officers will not fire shots from moving vehicles or at occupants of moving vehicles unless the situation becomes one of self-defense. (a) Only when the suspect ceases using the vehicle for transportation and begins using it as a deadly weapon may an officer use firearms.
        Each district is receiving copies of the revised deadly force policy — which prohibits firing at a moving vehicle unless an occupant is using a weapon other than the car or truck. Officers are required to sign off on it by Sunday.

        “What it helps clarify, really, is that we as an agency don't want our police officers to put themselves in harm's way,” said Ted Schoch, training director for the Cincinnati Police Academy.

        “Don't put yourself in a position where you're going to get hurt.”

        Several departments nation wide have banned the practice of shooting into moving vehicles. Cincinnati's policy stops short of that.

        Officer Keith Fangman, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Queen City Lodge 69, said FOP's executive board unanimously voted against the policy change.

        He said he thinks the city administration, not Chief Thomas Streicher, is behind the revision.

        “We find it hard to believe that Chief Streicher would willingly support a policy that could endanger the lives of police officers,” Officer Fangman said Thursday.

        Chief Streicher did not respond to requests for comment.

        Rod Prince, the city's assistant safety director, would say only that the safety department is “100 percent in support of the change in policy that the chief has mandated.”

        Officer Fangman said the policy is another mixed message the police administration has sent to officers in the aftermath of the March 19 fatal shooting of Michael Carpenter.

        After a traffic stop, Mr. Carpenter, 30, was shot in a moving Pontiac, which officers said he was using as a deadly weapon.

        Another issue, Officer Fangman said, is whether officers should reach into cars to pull out suspects.

        In the nine cases in which police have fired into moving cars since 1994, at least two, including the Carpenter shooting, occurred after officers tried to pull the suspect from the car.

        The officer was dragged, then the officer or a partner fired into the car.

        One officer has been criticized by the police administration for reaching into the car,

        although the policy does not forbid pulling the suspect out.

        Mr. Schoch said the revised guidelines are meant to steer officers away from such dangerous positions.

        Even with the new policy, there will be exceptions, he said.

        “I understand what Keith's saying, but that's not the purpose of this policy,” Mr. Schoch said.

        “We're putting the concern for our officers before anything else (and telling them) not just to rely on this weapon. Don't put yourself in that position.”

        The revised policy also includes statements about the officer's responsibility for using deadly force and specific instructions to officers to keep the finger off the gun's trigger unless they are about to shoot.

        Other officers who have voiced support for a change in the police shots-fired policy also expressed concern about the revision Thursday.

        Detective Cecil Thomas, president of the Sentinels Police Association for black officers, said he would like the division to add — in writing — that there are exceptions, or cases where an officer may fire at a moving vehicle. He suggested the administration add the phrase “as a last resort” to the policy, so an officer could fire at a moving vehicle after trying to get out of the way.

        “There needed to be a change because officers were shooting at vehicles and saying it (the vehicle) was a weapon.

        “There was too much latitude,” he said. “Officers weren't exhausting every means.”

        However, exceptions exist and the revised policy may confuse younger officers, he said.

        “If I'm hemmed up in a very narrow alley and have nowhere to go, you have to decide what you are going to do,” Detective Thomas said.

        “If I shoot him, he's probably still going to hit me anyway, but if I don't shoot him, the chances are 100 percent that he will hit me.”        

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