A specialized Washington, D.C., police unit that investigates officer-involved shootings is being split up, as the department’s leadership says the need for a team focused exclusively on that issue has diminished in the last decade, reports the Associated Press. The shake-up of the Force Investigation Team program, created in 1999 and credited with helping reduce police-involved shootings, is part of a departmental reorganization, said Police Chief Cathy Lanier. The team is being integrated into the internal affairs branch, and while some members have been transferred out, investigations into officer-involved shootings won’t change, she said.
With a sharp decline in police-involved shootings, the need for a unit devoted solely to such investigations is not so critical now as it was when the team was first assembled, said another official. There were 32 police-involved shootings in 1998, though most weren’t fatal; last year, there were 12, including five fatal shootings. Kris Baumann, chairman of the D.C. police officers’ union, called the team one of the department’s most important units. He said the shakeup was a “loss to everyone and a huge step backward to the city” and questioned whether investigations would be as “professional and impartial as before.” The Force Investigation Team program was created under then-Chief Charles Ramsey after a Washington Post series reported that the D.C. police department had fatally shot more people, compared to the city’s total population, than any other big-city police force in the 1990s.