A study on Taser use in Hamilton County released Oct. 1 by a local law firm that has represented Taser victims in the past four years seeks to shed light on the problems behind Taser use in the county and nationwide.
The study, which looked at 39 law enforcement agencies around Hamilton County through public record requests, listed a few key findings:
The study also pointed out that the tension behind Taser use “does not exist only in the abstract,” referencing the more than 500 deaths involving Taser use in the United States.
Al Gerhardstein, the local attorney behind the study, hopes the findings will lead to a change in Taser policies around the county.
On Sept. 18, the Cincinnati Police Department established new guidelines for Taser use, which the department now says are adequate for dealing with the problems found in Gerhardstein’s study. The new policy disallows the use of frontal shots except in situations involving self-defense and the defense of others, reinforces the fact officers need to make sure force is necessary and specifically points out people have been injured due to Taser use in the past.
As CityBeat did in the 2007 and 2009 election cycles, we’ve once again sent a questionnaire to the non-incumbent Cincinnati City Council candidates to get their reactions on a broad range of issues.
Nine of the 14 non-incumbents chose to answer our questions. Others either didn’t respond or couldn’t meet the deadline.
During the next few weeks, we will print the responses from the non-incumbents to a different topic each time.
Today’s question is, “The Police and Fire departments constitute 69 percent of the city's General Fund spending. Do you believe this amount can be lessened without affecting public safety?”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio on Monday asked Attorney General Mike DeWine to shut down a facial recognition program used by law enforcement until state officials verify and develop safety protocols that protect Ohioans’ rights to privacy.
DeWine formally announced the program’s existence in a press conference Monday. It allows police officers and civilian employees to use a photo to search databases for names and contact information. Previously, law enforcement officials needed a name or address to search such databases.
The program has been live for more than two months and so far used for 2,677 searches. In that time span, the program was kept hidden from the public and hasn’t been checked by outside groups for proper safety protocols.
The attorney general’s office is just now putting together an independent panel of judges, public defenders, chiefs of police, sheriffs and other public safety officials to look at the program and gauge whether currently standing protections are adequate.
“The time for press conferences and advisory boards was months ago,” said Gary Daniels, associate director of ACLU of Ohio, in a statement. “This system needs to be shut down until there are meaningful, documented rules in place to keep this information secure, protect the privacy of innocent people and prevent government abuse of this new tool.”
Shortly after unveiling the program at a press conference, DeWine acknowledged it should have been revealed to the public earlier: “In hindsight, if I had to over again, we would have put out a release the day that it went up or before that.”
Still, DeWine defended the program’s ability to connect law enforcement with criminal suspects.
“Historically for, I don’t know, decades, law enforcement has had the ability to pull up the (Bureau of Motor Vehicles) information,” DeWine said, before noting that similar facial recognition programs have been adapted by federal officials and 28 other states.
DeWine also explained that he thinks the current protections for the program are good enough, but he said it’s prudent to have an independent group verify the standards.
Misusing the program qualifies as a fifth-degree felony, which carries a prison sentence of six months to one year.
David Pepper, who’s running for attorney general in 2014
against DeWine, criticized the current attorney general for how the program has been handled.
“It is highly irresponsible for the Attorney General of Ohio to launch something this expansive and this intrusive into the lives of law-abiding citizens without ensuring the proper protocols were already in place to protect our privacy,” Pepper said in a statement. “To have kept this a secret for this long only makes it worse.”
DeWine said the independent group will be given 60 days to come up with recommendations. His office intends to announce who will serve on the group in the next few days.
A groundbreaking piece of legislation that would update investigative practices used by law enforcement agencies statewide has passed out of committee and is headed for a vote by the full Ohio House. State Rep. Tyrone Yates (D-Walnut Hills), chairman of the House Criminal Justice Committee, announced today that Substitute Senate Bill 77 was approved. The committee voted 8-2 in favor of the bill.
The city and gay rights organizations will host an LGBT public safety forum tonight. The partnership between the city of Cincinnati, Equality Cincinnati and the Human Rights Campaign of Greater Cincinnati (HRC) is meant to encourage and improve relations between the Cincinnati Police Department (CPD) and the gay community.
Lisa Davis, spokesperson for CPD, says the idea for the public forum came about when Andrew Winters, a diversity co-chair at HRC, ran into Police Chief James Craig at the Coffee Emporium coffee shop in Over-the-Rhine. Winters introduced himself to Craig, and Craig told Winters he was interested in addressing the LGBT community to open some dialogue and gather feedback.
One of the forum's purposes will be to explain CPD priorities. As an example, Davis explained why police might take an hour and a half to respond to a call at a gay club. She said that kind of delay is likely related to CPD's priority system. In the example of the gay club, perhaps someone was assaulted, but the suspect already left. If that happens, CPD would prioritize a case in which a suspect is still on the scene.
Davis hopes the explanations will ease concerns of police discrimination in the LGBT community. On the other side, she says the forum could help CPD gather feedback and learn about any overlooked problems.
CPD will also name Angela Vance as an LGBT liaison.
Davis says Vance will be open to calls from anyone in the LGBT community
to look into special events, collect information on crimes and review
possible cases of police mistreatment. For these cases, Vance will help
victims file complaints and provide guidance.
The public forum will take place at 6 p.m. tonight at the Mayerson Room in the School for Creative and Performing Arts, 108 West Central Parkway.
City Manager Milton Dohoney announced on Sept. 13 that Jeffrey Blackwell, the current deputy chief of the Columbus Division of Police, is being appointed to Cincinnati’s top police job.
The appointment ends a months-long process as the city searched for a replacement for former Police Chief James Craig, who left in June to take the top police job in his hometown, Detroit.
Blackwell was picked over three other finalists: Paul Humphries, who’s been acting Cincinnati Police chief since Craig left; Michael Dvorak, deputy chief of the Mesa, Ariz., Police Department; and Jerry Speziale, deputy superintendent of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police.
In a statement, the city touted Blackwell’s accomplishments in Columbus: Blackwell is a 26-year veteran of the police force, he was commended for his outreach to young people, he helped reach out to significant immigrant populations such as Somalians and Latinos, he advanced the use of technology and he worked with the city and communities to reduce crime and costs.
“Jeff understands that we have to work with the various communities we serve to build a culture of understanding and respect. In particular, I have spoken to him about our need to work in partnership with other organizations to reach teen youth and young adults to move the needle on reducing crime in this community,” Dohoney said in a statement.
With the decision, Blackwell will be put in charge of implementing new policies and leading the Cincinnati Police Department.
The appointment was made without much public input, even though some City Council members previously called on Dohoney to open up the process. Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld on Sept. 9 sent a letter to the city manager asking him to hold town halls in which the public could ask questions and evaluate the police chief candidates.
The city manager is ultimately in charge of who gets appointed to the city’s top police job.
Two far-reaching ideas by Cincinnati's fly-by-the-seats-of-their-pants City Council is being sharply criticized by people with extensive experience in policing issues.
As City Council acts surprised about a $58 million deficit that's loomed on the horizon for months, an amount that's only fluctuated slightly due to changing revenues, members last week proposed abolishing the Cincinnati Police Department's patrol bureau and contracting those services to the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office.