Prosecutors Seek Better Ways of Handling Police-Force Cases

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Prosecutors are looking for new ways to handle police use-of-force cases, the Wall Street Journal reports. Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby is pushing for state legislation to give police powers to her investigators. San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón is creating a unit to lead police-shooting investigations, instead of having police take the lead. Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams is sending send staff attorneys to any police shooting. The moves come after a string of failed prosecutions in cases involving fatal police shootings of black men, and controversial decisions not to prosecute in Charlotte, Ferguson, Mo., and elsewhere.

District attorneys can face criticism for not holding police accountable. Prosecutors say they must assess each case on its merits and consider how a jury—often sympathetic to police—would decide. “We’ve let a lot of this debate fall on the back of police and on the back of communities who have been upset, and we have not stepped up and taken our proper role,” said prosecutor Jean Peters Baker in Kansas City. “We’ve lost public trust because people couldn’t see what we did or why.” Since 2014, eight states have made changes to the process of investigating officer-involved deaths or alleged police abuse, says the National Conference of State Legislatures. Connecticut has a state agency investigate use-of-force cases, while Illinois, Utah, and Wisconsin require the use of outside investigators. Since 2015, 31 officers involved in fatal on-duty shootings have been charged with murder or manslaughter, compared with 48 the prior decade, said Philip Stinson of Bowling Green State University. The vast majority of the roughly 1,000 fatal shootings by police each year don’t result in prosecution.

 

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