Thursday, February 28, 2002

Response to reforms criticized

Police balk at some Justice suggestions

By Jane Prendergast
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        One of Cincinnati's influential African-American activists has serious concerns about the city's responses to police reforms suggested by the U.S. Department of Justice.

        Attorney Ken Lawson said Wednesday he's still reviewing the 27-page document, released to the public Monday. But he sees two key problems:

        • Changes in the policy on using chemical irritant are confusing.

        • Officers don't want to report every time they unholster their guns.

        “The unholstering is a problem,” Mr. Lawson said. “The problem is, once the gun is unholstered, someone's more likely to get shot. Unholstering is a use of force.”

        Many black residents complain about having guns pointed at them for no good reason, he said.

        Mr. Lawson is one of several attorneys representing the black community in the ongoing federal mediation process to settle a racial-profiling lawsuit against the city.

        Police officials say requiring officers to report every time they unholster their weapons could have a chilling effect on morale and could jeopardize officers' safety if they would hesitate to draw their guns.

        The proposed changes in officers' use of chemical irritant include requiring officers to write a narrative on why they used the spray, and requiring that officers get more training in its use. Justice recommended having officers weigh their cans of irritant, but the police department does not want to do that.

        The document lists many areas in which the city agrees with the suggestions by Justice last October — on about 65 of the 91 points.

        “There are some positive steps in there,” Mr. Lawson said.

        Chief Tom Streicher was on vacation when the document was made public. Wednesday, he said he did not want to talk about the department's response because it's just a step in an ongoing process.

        “Our position has been not to debate this publicly until it's finished,” the chief said. “We're still in discussions with it. When it's all over with, I'll be glad to discuss it fully.”

        Mr. Lawson said he plans to meet soon, he hopes next week, with Billy Martin, the city's Washington, D.C., attorney. He said he mentioned his concerns to Mr. Martin briefly Monday during a break in the federal mediation negotiations both are taking part in, but he wants to elaborate before the city's response is made final A final agreement with Justice could be finished as soon as next week.


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