READING THE critique by independent auditors about the length of time it takes in the District to resolve investigations of officer-involved shootings, we couldn’t help but be reminded of Albert Jermaine Payton. The 24-year-old was fatally shot outside his Southeast home by D.C. police officers on Aug. 24, 2012, and the case was still pending more than two years later when we wrote about it in December 2014. It would take almost three more months before the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced that it found no criminal conduct. The lack of urgency was worrisome, but, unfortunately, not atypical. So let’s hope police and prosecutors take to heart the call by the auditors to improve their processes.
The inordinate length of time (on average 19 months between 2009 and 2014) in criminal investigations and prosecutorial reviews of fatal officer-involved shootings was among the shortcomings cited in a review of use of force by D.C. police that was commissioned by D.C. Auditor Kathy Patterson. Thankfully, the number of such shootings is relatively low (between three and eight each year since 2009), and that, as the generally positive report found, is a credit to reforms put in place by the department and to the leadership of Chief Cathy L. Lanier and her predecessor, Charles H. Ramsey.
The department, wrote former Justice Department inspector general Michael R. Bromwich, “is plainly a very different, and much better, law enforcement agency” than it was in 1999 when a Post investigation about excessive use of deadly force led to federal investigation and oversight. Even though that oversight by the Justice Department ended nearly a decade ago, the reforms continued and the District is seen as a national leader in best practices. Nonetheless, the report spotlighted some deficiencies in policies and procedures that officials should address.
Foremost is the need to bring quicker resolution to the most serious cases of use of force. The U.S. Attorney’s Office disputed any suggestion of dragging its feet and said reviewers had “oversimplified” the many steps involved in the investigative process. There is no questioning the need for thorough investigation or that time-consuming forensics are involved. But investigations that stretch from months into a year or more delay and impede important administrative review of these events and are unfair to the victims, the public and the officers involved.
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