Should civilian-led state agency investigate police shootings?

Two top officials in King County are calling for changes in how shootings by police officers are investigated.

They say having police departments investigate their own officers doesn't make sense.

"If we continue to investigate our own, there's always going to be that doubt, that lingering doubt in people's mind, that the fix is in," said Sheriff John Urquhart.

At a community meeting last week about the shooting death of Tommy Le by a King County deputy in Burien, Urquhart first suggested the state take over all officer-involved shooting investigations.

In an interview with KIRO 7 on Tuesday, Urquhart said the Washington State Patrol, or even a new division of the state attorney general's office, could handle these cases to improve public confidence in the findings.

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In some cases, police departments arrange for a neighboring agency to do the investigation, like Des Moines did for a recent shooting in Kent.

Deborah Jacobs, the head of King County's Office of Law Enforcement Oversight, says for the public, that's not good enough.


"They don't perceive those as neutral investigations. They talk about the blue wall of silence, that's not the one department wall of silence, that's across a profession," Jacobs said.

In an op-ed in the Seattle Times, Jacobs suggested rebuilding public trust by creating a civilian-led statewide agency to investigate officer-involved shootings.

"The way to do that is to take them out of the hands of police and give them to citizens who must be qualified, trained, know how to do the investigations," Jacobs told KIRO 7.

Urquhart agrees with Jacobs that there should be civilian oversight, but says the actual investigation must be done by law enforcement.

"Are you going to pull in, as she advocates, a community member and have them do a homicide investigation to analyze blood spatter, to collect DNA, to do the measurements? No. That's patently ridiculous," Urquhart said.

In Seattle, there is a civilian-led professional accountability office for the Police Department, and the city is in the process of establishing a police inspector general.

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