Given the events of last week, I feel compelled to speak my mind. Some of you will agree and some will disagree. That’s ok. We need constructive debate.
I approach this subject as a former law enforcement officer and currently as a criminal defense investigator.
I have been on "both sides of the fence” and have friends and colleagues on both sides as well. I have also served as an expert witness in police use of force cases, including deadly shootings. I have the utmost respect for the law enforcement officers who put their lives on the line every day to protect us.
We have heard the line that it is easy to underestimate the real and ever present danger these officers face. One moment of carelessness can, and often does, lead to death.
The job of policing carries enormous responsibility that should elicit universal trust and respect. That this is not always the case stems from the belief of perceived bias on the part of police officers who are entrusted to enforce our laws in a just and uniform manner.
The best way to fight such perceptions is with transparency—a transparency where all parties are held accountable. It is my belief that there is not enough transparency in our criminal justice system, particularly in our law enforcement departments. This lack of transparency fosters an atmosphere of distrust between law enforcement and the public that results in tragedies such as we saw last week.
The investigation of police shootings and other serious or fatal encounters should not be conducted by the local authorities, namely the involved law enforcement agency and the local prosecutor.
This notion is not new nor is it unique to me, but I believe it bears reviewing. Despite their different roles there is a close and important relationship between the law enforcement agencies and the local prosecutors. It is important there be an honest and free flow of information between the agencies.
First, any investigation, no matter how thorough and professional, by a law enforcement officer of one of its own is automatically suspect. Having been in a police shooting, I can tell you that the “thin blue line” does exist and there is a predisposition to try and exonerate the involved officer during the investigation. As an expert witness I have reviewed video tapes of the officers questioning and without exception there has been a bias in the questioning. I don’t think this bias is often deliberate-it is inherent in the system. It is natural to want to protect ones comrade who may have made a mistake in a difficult situation.
It is my belief that all police shootings and serious use of force cases should be investigated by an outside agency, qualified to conduct such an investigation and the result of the investigation should be presented to an outside prosecutor, one that does not have a relationship with the involved officer agency.
The facts of the investigation, upon which the decision to prosecute or not is made, should be made public record. I mean the entire investigation, not a heavily redacted summary of events.
There are always going to be police shootings and a vast majority will be justified. The citizens, however, must have confidence in the system that investigates and makes prosecutorial decisions. There must be transparency and confidence must be restored in the system—confidence that all lives, both police and citizens, matter.