Thursday, June 23, 2016

Greater scrutiny coming for Texas police shootings

The stories of Texans shot by police will receive a lot more scrutiny soon.

The Texas Tribune has launched a crowdfunding campaign to pay for "a massive open records effort that will track fatal and nonfatal police shootings from 2010 to 2015 in Texas’ largest cities. Through this investigative project, we want to provide context on when and why officers use lethal force. We're gaining access to records from police departments across Texas; we'll supplement that information with original reporting and explore trends that emerge in these shootings." If you're able, give them some love. That's a worthwhile project.

Notably, they plan to include "nonfatal police shootings" which were not compiled anywhere before September 2015. It's hard to see how that list could ever be comprehensive. Those records simply were not kept. (Fatal shootings were recorded in the Attorney General's death in custody database.) But they'll find enough through open records requests to paint a representative picture.

In addition, our pal Eva Ruth Moravec revealed recently that she'll be "undertaking a year-long reporting project thanks to a grant that will allow me to write while I continue chipping away at my Master’s degree. In general, I’ll be researching and reporting on officer-involved shootings in the Lone Star State – but I’ll explain more in detail later." She'll be taking a deep dive into individual police shooting cases around the state. I'm excited about her project, though I'll leave it to her to announce the details.

These two journalism initiatives promise to focus a lot more attention on the issues surrounding police shootings in the coming year - a happy and welcome side effect of the new reports being compiled by Amanda Woog that the Texas Legislature mandated last session.

On a related note, I recently ran across this Prawfsblawg post from our man John Pfaff last year suggesting a novel approach to prosecuting police misconduct: Allowing public defender offices to prosecute the cases. There's a perspective from which that makes a lot of sense. One is reminded of practices in the UK where attorneys may serve as either a prosecutor or  defense attorney in any given case and those categories are not such narrow specializations. Ex-prosecutors become defense attorneys all the time and vice versa; a lawyers skills are fungible in that regard. Of course, we don't have PD offices in most of Texas, using appointed counsel in most counties. But it was an interesting idea.

Here in Texas, we've seen more traditional suggestions for having such cases prosecuted by special prosecutors or a division at the AG, though those bills never got out of committee in the 2015 session. Paul Cassell has suggested AG's could take on those responsibilities of their own accord, but in Texas they can only step in to prosecute a case if the local DA invites them. And on police shootings and/or misconduct cases, none of them do.


Anonymous said...

I donated to this cause although I'm not sure what good it will do. What's needed is improvements to TPIA so that ordinary people can directly investigate an officer involved shooting themselves. Current local media only takes a cursory look at these events.

Anonymous said...

If you look at every case there is one single element that stands out: fear. They were afraid or in fear of their lives, etc. Every one. So cut them some slack. They're running scared. Scared of everything. Scared of being hurt. Scared of being killed. Scared of being exposed? Scared of the people. Fear driven policing. Should be a book.

Anonymous said...

write it!