Friday, May 25, 2001

Police altered policy on force

Projectiles given OK to prevent riots, judge told

By Sheila McLaughlin
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        After Cincinnati police became the target of a federal probe for firing beanbags and rubber bullets into a peaceful crowd during the April riots, the department broadened its policy on nonlethal weapons use.

        Hours before he was to meet with Department of Justice attorneys Thursday who are investigating police officers' use of force, an assistant chief told a federal judge that top police officials changed the policy May 1.

        Those changes now permit the use of the projectiles against protesters as a preventive measure.

        Lt. Col. Richard Janke's testimony about the changes came as a lawyer for 34 protesters made an unsuccessful bid before U.S. District Judge S. Arthur Spiegel to ban Cincinnati police from using beanbag shotguns and sponge-tipped rounds during a planned June 2 protest.

        Lt. Col. Janke said later that the policy was changed because it was too limited — it only applied to using beanbags in incidents involving one subject.

        The new procedure differs from what was in place during the unrest that followed the police shooting on April 7 of 19-year-old Timothy Thomas, according to city and federal court records.

        Under the old rules — updated last November — officers could use beanbag shotguns and the hard foam rounds in instances in which an offender was resisting arrest or to stop someone threatening to harm himself or others.

        The latest version authorizes their use to “ensure public safety and/or the prevention of property damage” and “during exigent conditions involving crowds, to terminate or prevent unlawful acts or to prevent the escalation of civil unrest.”

        Lt. Col. Janke testified in court that police will only fire the projectiles into crowds if demonstrators damage property, throw objects or commit violence.

        Attorney Robert Newman had sought to ban their use, saying the projectiles constituted deadly force. The action was part of a lawsuit against the city and 30 officers on behalf of 34 protesters and bystanders who say they were unjustly shot with beanbags and foam rounds.

        “The latest word is what Janke said from the witness stand and I'm going to hold the city to his word. ... People are not going to be shot to disperse the crowd,” Mr. Newman said.

       Jane Prendergast contributed.


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