- The Washington Times - Friday, May 21, 2004

CINCINNATI (AP) — Shootings targeting police appear to be on the rise in Cincinnati, where tensions between officers and civilians have been running high in recent years.

Gunmen have opened fire on the city’s officers seven times since November. In three of those cases, the officers were not involved in confrontations with suspects, police said.

No officers were injured in any of the shootings, but that hasn’t lessened their concerns.

“This significant increase in subjects shooting at Cincinnati police officers the last few months, especially the ones that are random — is extremely frightening,” said Officer Keith Fangman, who is assigned to patrol downtown. “This is as bad as I’ve ever seen it.”

Records of such shootings are not kept to estimate the number of similar shootings in past years but, “I’m not aware of another spurt like this,” Cincinnati police spokesman Lt. Kurt Byrd said.

Speculation as to the reasons behind the shootings is varied.

Lt. Byrd and Officer Fangman said increased efforts to crack down on the drug trade could be one reason.

Victoria Straughn, chairwoman of Concerned Citizens for Justice, which has criticized police for their treatment of blacks, believes the shooting this month illustrated a general mistrust for police developed from years of poor police-community relations.

“The situation has been so tense for so long that it doesn’t take much for something like this to escalate,” she said.

Much of the tension has been attributed to at least 19 black men dying in confrontations with Cincinnati officers since 1995. Police union leaders said the men who died had threatened officers with weapons.

The shooting of an unarmed black man as he fled from a white police officer in 2001 led to three days of rioting.

A U.S. Justice Department investigation led to a 2002 agreement to tighten police policies governing use of force and to improve handling of citizen complaints.

Cincinnati’s officers are being targeted seemingly more often than police in most other cities nationwide.

Rich Roberts, a spokesman for the International Union of Police Associations, said most departments across the country have general concerns about assaults on officers, but random shootings targeting police are less prevalent.

In New York City, for example, police haven’t had to worry much about becoming targets in recent years, said Paul Browne, a New York Police Department deputy commissioner.

“There was a period in the 1970s where there were assassinations of police officers who were called to scenes and basically ambushed, with 11 officers killed in one year,” Mr. Browne said. “But police-community relations are excellent now and we haven’t had those kinds of problems for several years.”

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