Friday, March 28, 2003

SWAT team

Finally, the cops get paid


There's a new team working out at Spinney Field, where the Bengals used to practice futility. They wear blue and white, not orange and black, and they're undefeated this year: 32 wins, no losses.

Since the Bengals moved out, Spinney Field has been home to the Cincinnati Police Academy and the SWAT Team - the elite Delta Force of the police army. And just like the soldiers in Iraq, these guys are real heroes.

They play for keeps.

In a classroom where the Bengals studied game films, the cops practice "shooting'' an armed suspect on a movie screen with infrared guns in a simulated traffic stop.

Next door, a beat cop is working in a squad car simulator that's a cross between NASA training wheels and a game at Dave & Buster's. As he chases a red pickup, an SUV suddenly darts out from a blind corner and a crash spreads spider-webbed glass all over the simulated windshield.

Always on call

The SWAT team has been called out 32 times in 2003 - on pace to break last year's record of 111 calls. Before the riots, in 2000, there were just 78 calls. Only 39 the year before that.

When things get so bad the cops need to dial 911, they call the SWAT Team. If risk factors such as guns and violence reach a critical number on a point scale, SWAT officers are paged. They drop what they're doing wherever they are, to suit up and knock down a door in a bunkered crack house full of guns, ammo and dopeheads, or wade into who-knows-what white-knuckle situation.

Sometimes there are children behind the barricaded doors. Or attack dogs. Or all of the above.

SWAT members don't get much attention - except when they get unfairly painted as reckless Rambos with badges.

Two years ago, near the end of the riots, a SWAT team was ordered to clear an intersection and fired non-lethal beanbags into a crowd of protesters that refused to disperse. You'd think it was a police version of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre.

The Justice Department found no wrongdoing. But the city paid jackpots to the out-of-town protesters anyway. Come to Cincinnati. Break the law. Win big money.

The cops were not so lucky.

The truth prevails

The feds threatened the cops with prison and disgrace if they didn't roll over on their friends and admit it was some kind of racist conspiracy. Legal bills ate up their kids' college funds or pushed them deep into debt.

They didn't crack. They all stuck to the truth, and the feds left town in a foul cloud of lame excuses.

Now, nearly two years later, the city has finally paid the six cops $75,671 for their legal expenses. "It's like my life was on hold for two years,'' one of them said.

On St. Patrick's Day at their rowdy SWAT dinner, the best of Cincinnati's finest - men and women who would lay down their lives in a heartbeat for any of us - stood to toast and cheer the "beanbag six."

The Marine Corps of CPD is still undefeated.

E-mail or call 768-8301.

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