Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters’ self-described “war” on illegal guns will be fought in the courtroom, where Deters and his assistant prosecutors no longer plan to offer plea bargains to people charged with gun crimes.
Lt. Eric Vogelpohl fights on a different front: Cincinnati streets. Vogelpohl leads the Cincinnati Police Department’s gun crime task force, which tracks and recovers illegal guns. It’s a busy job, he said Wednesday.
"It's very data-driven,” he said. “We respond to where phone calls come from, the Shot Spotters come from — where the bodies are, for lack of a better word — and that's where we go."
His task force has recovered about 240 illegal guns since the start of 2021; the Cincinnati Police Department as a whole has recovered around 800.
More and more, Vogelpohl said, the guns are found in the hands of children.
“We’re finding guns on 12-, 13-, 14-year-olds,” he said. “Obviously, the 16-year-old that was shot this past weekend was unfortunate.”
That 16-year-old was Milo Watson, who police believe became involved in an argument with 19-year-old Dexter Wright Jr. in Smale Park on July 4. The pair confronted each other with guns as officers attempted to clear the park, police said.
Both were fatally shot. So were three other teenagers, all under the age of 18.
The attack prompted Deters to declare his crusade against people arrested for gun-related offenses. A particular focus of the campaign: People charged with “weapons under disability,” the legal term for a gun in the possession of someone who is not legally allowed to have it due to a prior felony conviction.
“I'm talking about violent criminals, people who carry guns,” he said. “People who are convicted of carrying guns, they're under disability and they continue to do it."
Vogelpohl is supportive of the idea. He said his team’s data-driven approach has exposed the level of repetition in the city’s gun crimes. Many are committed by a small number of shooters with a small number of guns. One gun he’s recovered had been used 15 times at 14 shootings across the city.
And just as guns resurface from attack to attack, so do victims. There are Cincinnati families that have lost multiple members to separate, unrelated instances of gun violence.
“Every gun we take off, it provides someone else an opportunity to come outside and not fear for their life and not worry about getting a random bullet,” Vogelpohl said.