Editorial: Colorado Senate gets high marks for ensuring openness in police shooting probes

From the Aurora Sentinel:  State lawmakers have rightly made clear that two things are critical when it comes to preserving public trust in police departments: autonomy and transparency.

A committee of the Colorado state Senate this week gave a strong bipartisan thumbs-up to a measure that would require police and sheriff agencies across the state to have plans in place to protect police integrity in the rare case of an officer-involved shooting. Senate Bill 15-219 would require police departments to create plans that would immediately bring in an outside police agency if an officer shoots a civilian. In addition, the bill would require a district attorney investigating the shooting to make public a complete report if no charges are filed against a cop involved in a shooting, explaining why the incident was justified.

The bill was just one of several that focus on police rules, training and behavior in light of controversial police-shooting incidents in Ferguson, Missouri and across the country. Sadly, just such an incident occurred in Aurora on March 6. Veteran Aurora SWAT team officer Paul Jerothe shot and killed parolee Naeschylus Vinzant near an north Aurora elementary school when something went wrong during Vinzant’s arrest. Police have revealed almost no details about what prompted Jerothe to shoot Vinzant, who was unarmed and black. Police have only refuted claims that Vinzant was handcuffed at the time of the shooting. The case is now in the hands of the Jefferson County district attorney’s office, who won’t comment on the matter.

Police and prosecutors say they can’t comment to preserve the integrity of the case. The problem is that a long, secret investigation only impugns the results. If the JeffCo DA were to rule that the shooting was justified, even clear details of such a decision would be clouded by two critical problems: The initial investigation was done by Aurora police, and it has been shrouded in secrecy. In contrast, details of shootings not involving police officers are almost always timely and prolific.

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