An article in the Bay Citizen on Wednesday criticized the investigation of officer-involved shootings in Alameda County, and in particular, Oakland. The District Attorney’s Office conducts an investigation into every officer-involved shooting. The investigation is conducted by a rotating on-call team which includes an experienced deputy district attorney and an inspector.
The problem, according to the author of the article Shoshana Walter, is that ex-cops often serve on the team that does the investigation. Sometimes an ex-cop will be assigned to investigate a shooting out of the very same police department from which he came up. This poses a possible conflict of interest.
To be fair, the Alameda DA doesn’t have a policy of assigning ex-cops to investigate cop shootings. Rather, it assigns a deputy district attorney and an inspector. The inspector is an employee of the DA’s office who is trained in investigating and handling evidence. It so happens that often the DA inspectors are retired police officers. Many of the inspectors are from the Oakland police department.
The DA inspectors are not primarily in charge of the officer-involved shooting investigations. Attorneys are. In a given investigation, a deputy district attorney performs the investigation, and writes the report, with the help of the inspector, who does such things as transport evidence and tape record witnesses interviews.
Even so – appearances matter. Law enforcement officers have a privilege to use force. But our freedom depends upon them not abusing their power. An investigation into whether the shooting of a civilian by a police officer was murder, conducted by an ex-cop from the same department, does not exactly build public trust.