Outsiders must investigate police shootings

A frame grab of video in which Sacramento police shot Joseph Mann in July.
A frame grab of video in which Sacramento police shot Joseph Mann in July.

The video release of the Sacramento police shooting of Joseph Mann, a mentally ill man, increases the urgency for independent investigations of officer-involved shootings.

Mann was behaving erratically, had a knife and threatened officers verbally. Officers had been told he had a gun, though no gun was found. It’s unclear from the video whether he was holding a weapon in his final confrontation with police.

Police and District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert’s office are investigating to determine if the shooting was justified.

However, it’s in the best interests of the public and officers to bring more independence and transparency to investigations of shootings by officers.

A conflict of interest exists when police and district attorneys police themselves. District attorneys rely on testimony and evidence provided by police. They work together and many develop close relationships.

In a 2015 report, The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing concluded that independent investigators and prosecutors are needed in cases of police-involved fatal shootings.

So far, only three states require that outside agencies investigate officer-involved shootings. In Wisconsin, the first state to adopt such a requirement, police have embraced the reform, and it gives family and friends of the deceased more confidence in the process.

Jim Palmer, executive director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, said the reform “strikes the balance between the fact that law enforcement officers have one of the hardest jobs in the world and the reality that their ability to do those jobs relies upon the public trust.”

In 2015, I authored legislation, AB 86, that would have required special prosecutors appointed by California’s attorney general to investigate officer-involved shootings. The bill, which stalled, would have granted independent prosecutors the authority and resources to determine whether criminal charges should be filed against officers who are justified in their use of lethal force.

Based on what we see across the country and in Sacramento, California must insist on independent outside investigations of officer-involved shootings.

Assemblyman Kevin McCarty is a Democrat who represents Sacramento and West Sacramento,