Tuesday, May 08, 2001

Roach 'by-the-book' sort of cop

By Jane Prendergast
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cincinnati Police Officer Stephen Roach walked into the police union hall.

        While he'd been there for monthly meetings before, the 27-year-old stood before fellow officers for this meeting two weeks ago as an officer who had shot an unarmed black man to death. That one shot from a service pistol ignited riots, led to millions of dollars in damage to the city and drew federal scrutiny to the Cincinnati Police Division.

        The crowd of more than 300 gave him a standing ovation.

        Officers who were there say they clapped for a four-year officer. A hometown boy with no professional blemishes and plenty of commendations on his record. A cop's kid who has spent his entire career with Cincinnati police working nights in impoverished, high-crime Over-the-Rhine.

        This was not the guy fellow officers expected to be involved in this kind of critical event.

        “He's a very squared-away guy,” said Spc. Jim Perkins, Officer Roach's former partner. “He's calm. He doesn't get excited on the radio. He's level-headed and he makes good, sound decisions.”

        The ovation two weeks ago at the Fraternal Order of Police monthly meeting was an impromptu showing of compassion and support — not anything meant to minimize the death of Mr. Thomas, said Keith Fangman, president of the local union.

        “A lot of officers feel really badly for him and his family,” Mr. Fangman said. “He was involved in a death, which is not easy for anyone to take.”

        Officer Roach had planned his police career for years. He wanted to follow in the footsteps of his father, Dennis, an Oxford cop for two decades.

        After graduating in 1992 from Talawanda High School in Oxford — where he was a football standout and team leader — he began studying criminal justice at the University of Dayton.

        During the summer of 1994, while still in college, he worked as a firefighter and emergency medical technician for the Oxford Fire Department. The following June, he became a dispatcher for Oxford police. He kept both jobs until July 1997, when he started as a recruit with the 1,020-officer Cincinnati Police Division.

        Officer Roach graduated from the academy in December 1997 and began working nights in District 1, which patrols Over-the-Rhine, the West End, Pendleton and downtown.

        His colleagues say he rarely gets reports returned to him for corrections.

        “He's not the kind who would get you in trouble,” Officer Mark Longworth said. “He's always by-the-book.”

        Hanging on the wall in District 1 is one of several commendations he and Spc. Perkins earned together. It tells the story of another late-night foot pursuit, in March 1999, that ended very differently from the night Mr. Thomas was shot.

        Spc. Perkins and Officer Roach responded to a call about a “man with a gun” at 1700 Vine Street. They saw a man matching the caller's description. He ran.

        The officers ran after him and, during the pursuit, the man reached with his right hand into his waistband and pulled out a silver handgun.

        Neither of the officers fired, and the suspect dropped the gun and was arrested without incident.

        Officer Roach last September married Erin Donovan, a dispatcher for Cincinnati police for almost five years. Her father, Thomas Donovan, is former president of the Cincinnati firefighters' union. The couple lives in Harrison.

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