States May Set Special Probes Of Police Killings; Prosecutors Opposed


Legislators in some states are moving to make investigations of police-involved killings more independent by requiring outside review or special prosecutors, the Wall Street Journal reports. The change comes after nationwide protests of grand jury failures to indict officers in the deaths of unarmed black men Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner on Staten Island, N.Y. In California and New Jersey, proposals seek to emulate a first-of-its kind law that went into effect last year in Wisconsin to require independent probes of officer-involved fatalities. Joe Salazar, a Colorado state representative, is drafting a bill that would create a special prosecution unit in the state attorney general's office to investigate officer-involved deaths, such as a recent in-custody fatality in Denver, as well as some excessive-force cases. “What we want to do is rebuild the trust between community and law enforcement, and this will go a long way to rebuilding that trust,” he said.

Bills such as these are likely to face stiff opposition from police and prosecutors. “District attorneys are elected to do a tough job and just because people don't like the outcome of two different cases doesn't mean we should change the whole system,” said William Fitzpatrick, president-elect of the National District Attorneys Association and district attorney in Onondaga County, N.Y. Maki Haberfeld, chairwoman of the Department of Law, Police Science and Criminal Justice Administration at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said that such changes don't get at the real issues involved in American policing and use of force. “That's a reactive approach, not proactive: There is a need to invest in recruitment, selection and training and then we will have less need for investigations,” she said.

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