Is it Unpatriotic to Criticize a Cop?

Do police officers deserve special treatment? Should they be protected from lawsuits if they beat an innocent person? Should they be prosecuted if they kill someone and then lie about the circumstan

Jul 26, 2001 at 2:06 pm

Do police officers deserve special treatment? Should they be protected from lawsuits if they beat an innocent person? Should they be prosecuted if they kill someone and then lie about the circumstances?

To hear Keith Fangman tell it, Cincinnati Police officers are feeling picked on.

"There's a tremendous amount of negativity being directed at the Cincinnati Police Department," he said.

Fangman is president of the Fraternal Order of Police and hardly a man given to understatement. The police department is receiving more than "negativity": It's under siege. Fangman himself itemized the department's problems, in a speech July 19 in a packed dining room at the Queen City Club.

The Cincinnati Police Division is a defendant in "no less than 37 lawsuits," according to Fangman. The department is the subject of a U.S. Justice Department investigation into allegations of excessive force.

A federal grand jury is probing officers' attacks on protesters. Accusations of racism come from many of the city's black leaders. Since November, three Cincinnati cops have been indicted in the deaths of suspects.

Fangman does not like any of this. The "negativity" toward police, he says, has precipitated a passive police force whose officers are no longer willing to risk their job security or their safety. The "shell-shocked police department," Fangman says, is full of officers who want to do their job but feel "handcuffed" by potential allegations of racism.

Of course, another way to put it is to say police are being held accountable for their actions.

"Officers now have to worry about losing their freedom, their family and their home," Fangman said.

Those are the same commodities other citizens lose when they break the law, but Fangman seems to suggest police should be exempt. He doesn't say so, of course; instead he blames increased crime on all the lawsuits and prosecutions and criticism — the "negativity" toward the department.

Criminals are taking advantage of the fearful police force, according to Fangman.

"These are street-smart criminals, make no mistake about it," he said.

Fangman cited the 59 shootings in Cincinnati between April 7 and July 19. Only nine shootings occurred in that same time frame last year. The cause? "Negativity" against police.

Fangman said officers are becoming "increasingly hesitant" on the job and nearly all have abandoned the "pro-active," self-initiated style of policing necessary to control crime.

"There are some in our community ... that have made it clear they will not support that type of policing," Fangman said.

Fangman was a featured speaker at City Councilmember Phil Heimlich's PIT (Promoting Issues Today) Crew breakfast.

Near the conclusion of his brief speech, Fangman drew a comparison between Cincinnati and Detroit, issuing a warning.

"Where we are now is exactly where the city of Detroit was a decade ago," he said.

Detroit is a city whose majority population is African-American. It also has a high crime rate — the result of "negativity" toward the Detroit Police Department. In Detroit, as in Cincinnati, a series of racial problems led to protests and intense public scrutiny of police.

"They were pounded into submission," Fangman said.

With a derelict police department, "human nature kicked in" and criminal activity skyrocketed. The public criticism was a catalyst in a "domino effect" whereby police "gave up," crime rose dramatically and businesses left town. Fangman said Detroit is now a "ghost town."

That, Fangman seemed to say, is what happens when you criticize police.

Fangman wasn't the only speaker at the PIT Crew breakfast to criticize critics of the police. Heimlich questioned the motives of Black United Front leader Rev. Damon Lynch III.

"(I'm) against those who rip off the black community," he said.

One of the demands of Boycott Cincinnati is amnesty for people arrested during April's civil unrest. Heimlich said he would consider supporting amnesty under one condition.

"If the people who helped incite the violence were willing to trade places," he said.