Hamilton County Attorney Joe Deters’ self-described “war” on illegal weapons is waged in the courtroom, where Deters and his assistant prosecutors no longer plan to offer bargains to people charged with gun crimes.
Lt. Eric Vogelpohl is fighting on another front: the streets of Cincinnati. Vogelpohl heads the Cincinnati Police Department’s Gun Crimes Task Force, which tracks down and recovers illegal weapons. It is exhausting work, he said on Wednesday.
“It’s very data driven,” he said. “We respond to where phone calls are coming from, where the shot spotters are from – where the corpses are because there is no better word – and that’s where we go.”
Its task force has seized around 240 illegal weapons since early 2021; The Cincinnati Police have recovered a total of about 800 people.
More and more often, according to Vogelpohl, the weapons are found in children’s hands.
“We find guns in 12, 13, 14-year-olds,” he said. “Of course the 16-year-old who was shot last weekend was unhappy.”
This 16-year-old was Milo Watson, who police believe was involved in an argument with 19-year-old Dexter Wright Jr. on July 4th in Smale Park. The couple faced guns when officers tried to evacuate the park. said the police.
Both were fatally shot. There are also three other teenagers, all under the age of 18.
The attack prompted Deters to declare his crusade against people arrested for gun crimes. A particular focus of the campaign: defendants for “weapons under disability”, the legal term for a weapon in the possession of a person who is legally not allowed to own it due to a previous conviction.
“I’m talking about violent criminals, people who carry guns,” he said. “People convicted of carrying guns are disabled and continue to do so.”
Vogelpohl supports the idea. He said his team’s data-driven approach has exposed the level of recurrence in the city’s gun crimes. Many are committed by a small number of shooters with a small number of weapons. A gun he found was used 15 times in 14 shootings across the city.
And just as weapons reappear from attack to attack, so do the victims. There are Cincinnati families who have lost multiple members to separate, unrelated cases of gun violence.
“Every weapon we take off gives someone else the opportunity to get outside without fear for their life and not having to worry about getting a random bullet,” said Vogelpohl.