ST. LOUIS - The death of Anthony Lamar Smith has raised serious questions about the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department investigating its own officers in police shootings.
“In my opinion, there is no way possible that a police organization can truly, truly investigate one of its own,” said Josh Peters, the Democratic State Representative of Missouri's 76th District.
Peters plans to introduce a bill that requires the Missouri State Highway Patrol to step in immediately after an officer-involved shooting.
“We want to take the element of distrust out of the equation,” Peters said.
The NAACP also announced that it wants an independent third party to investigate officer-involved shootings in St. Louis. The group is calling for a public vote to change the city charter, and require a special unit in the Circuit Attorney's Office to handle the investigations.
Some local legal experts also think that independent investigation is needed.
“In terms of dealing with the actual car and the victim who is dead, then a different law enforcement agency doing the investigation would have promoted public trust,” said Peter Joy, a Washington University Law professor who teaches criminal justice.
“If we look beyond criminal law, if there is an airline disaster, we don't have the company investigate its own disaster,” Joy said. “There is an independent body that comes in.”
But some police union officials aren’t so certain.
“We're not necessarily in favor of outside investigators,” said Jeff Roorda, business manager for St. Louis Police Officers Association. “We have more oversight in this police department than any other police department in the nation.”
We asked the St. Louis Metropolitan Police to comment about the call for independent investigations in officer-involved shootings by Gardner and the St. Louis NAACP.
“We have not seen any documents from either agency about this,” a spokesperson for the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department said. “We would want to review their suggestions before making any comment."
Professor Joy said any need for independence with these sort of cases also applies to the prosecutor's office.
Federal legislation introduced in Congress and endorsed by the NAACP encourages states to use independent prosecutors to oversee the investigation officer-involved shootings and to prosecute them if needed.
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