Paul Gattone: Officer involved shootings need independent review

2014-03-19T00:00:00Z Paul Gattone: Officer involved shootings need independent reviewBy Paul Gattone Special to the Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

I hope that other readers are as disturbed as I was at reading the recent article about the number of law-enforcement shootings in Tucson and Pima County (“Most officer-involved shootings last year deemed OK,” March 9).

I am certain that law enforcement believes that these increased numbers are caused by a society that is becoming more violent. How can this be true when violent crime overall is going down? I would argue that this increase is more likely due to the fact that police officers know that they can shoot or kill members of the community with no ramifications for their actions.

Currently, as the story indicated, if a member of a local law-enforcement agency is involved in a shooting, his or her actions are reviewed by the criminal division of the Pima County Attorney’s Office. In all the instances discussed in the article, the County Attorney’s Office found that all but two of the shootings were justified, and for the other two it declined to prosecute.

I do not see how this can be an unbiased review of the circumstances of the shooting when the County Attorney’s Office works daily with the officers from the Tucson Police Department and the Pima County Sheriff’s Department and is dependent on their testimony and collection of evidence to prosecute cases. Under these circumstances, it is extremely unlikely that the County Attorney’s Office is going to prosecute the officer involved in the shooting.

The second level of review for a police shooting is the convening of a board of inquiry. These boards are convened by TPD officials and involve officers investigating and determining whether the actions of a fellow officer were justified. This is an internal police review mechanism and as such involves the police policing themselves. Realistically, the police are not very likely to fault one of their own for an “in-the-line-of-duty” shooting.

What is needed to ensure that police violence is used only when justified is a truly independent review mechanism. This would involve the appointment of a special independent prosecutor to review the circumstances of the shooting and to recommend prosecution if necessary. This person would be chosen from outside the County Attorney’s Office or the office of any state or county prosecutor’s office, so that he or she could view the circumstances of the shooting without the bias inherent with a county attorney review.

Also, if a shooting board of inquiry is going to be convened, it should be an independent, civilian-based entity that could review the circumstances of the police shooting without the inherent bias of an internal law-enforcement review.

While these are only suggestions, we must put in place a means of reviewing law-enforcement shootings that will ensure a fair and unbiased review so that the community can be assured that police officers will use deadly force only when absolutely necessary to protect the officer and members of the public.

Paul Gattone is a civil-rights and criminal-defense attorney and activist in Tucson. Contact him at pgattone@aol.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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