For the public, how prosecutors respond to police shootings can prompt just as much distrust of government as the shooting itself. That’s especially true when ex-police officers are hired to investigate shootings in their former departments, a common practice in California.
In today’s story, the Center for Investigative Reporting focused on the practices of a few California district attorney’s offices, but it’s easy to replicate the story in your town, city or county.
Start by asking basic questions about officer-involved shootings:
- When a police officer shoots and kills someone, how does the agency respond?
- Who at your district attorney’s office investigates?
Across the country, protocol varies county to county. If your prosecutor’s office conducts an investigation, chances are high that it employs investigators from nearby law enforcement agencies.
Because this is a common practice, your prosecutor should be able to tell you whether the office’s investigators were formerly employed by law enforcement agencies. If not, you can find out by requesting certain documents and public information using the California Public Records Act.
Some prosecutors compile and release reports on officer-involved shootings. In Alameda County, for example, these reports contain the names of the investigators assigned to each case. Ask for their employment histories or confirm their previous employment with the law enforcement agency or the state. Other documents, such as agency newsletters, may contain announcements about new hires that reveal an investigator’s employment history.
If your prosecutor does not release reports on officer-involved shooting investigations, ask your prosecutor for a list of those who are assigned to investigate officer-involved shootings.
Some prosecutors, such as in Alameda or San Francisco, may not be willing to disclose an investigator’s specific assignment. In this case, you can ask for a general list of investigators and check their employment histories. The likelihood that they are all former law enforcement is high.
Finally, this is a common practice nationwide. Many prosecutors do not believe there is a conflict of interest in assigning former officers to investigate police shootings at their former departments. Ask your prosecutor whether this is the case in your county.