December 5, 2013

IT HAS been two months since a young mother was fatally shot by police after a dramatic car chase in which White House and U.S. Capitol security barriers were breached. Details have emerged about the woman’s history of mental illness, the contents of her car and the number of shots fired. But big issues remain. Was the use of force proper? Are the right policies and training in place? It is important that these questions be answered in a way that is most transparent to the public.

The investigation into the Oct. 3 shooting of 34-year-old Miriam Carey, who led the Secret Service and Capitol Police on the high-speed chase, is ongoing. The U.S. attorney’s office, in conjunction with the D.C. police’s internal affairs bureau, is reviewing the circumstances of Ms. Carey’s death to determine whether there is criminal or civil rights culpability. The Secret Service and Capitol Police will determine whether officers followed their departments’ use-of-force policies and whether changes in practices or policies are needed.

Officials said that they couldn’t provide a timeline but investigations of this type — generally done for all shootings involving police officers in the District — are complex. This case involves multiple officers from different agencies and numerous witnesses. The investigation needs to be comprehensive and correct, but there also must be a sense of urgency in determining whether there are lessons to be learned from what everyone agrees was a tragic incident.

The Secret Service and Capitol Police have unique duties to protect federal government personnel and property as well as the public. Ms. Carey’s actions — trying to ram a White House barrier, hitting a Secret Service agent, refusing at gunpoint to surrender — were alarming. “Out-of-control situation” was the description from Chuck Wexler of the Police Executive Research Forum. But were non-lethal alternatives open to police, particularly since shooting into moving cars is seen as dangerous and ineffective and is generally prohibited or greatly discouraged by most police agencies? Would better training have alerted police to the fact that they were dealing with a woman with mental problems? What would have happened if the driver had been a suicide bomber?

These are questions best answered by police and security professionals. But the answers, and the reasonings behind them, need to be shared with the public.