From my friend Darren at RotLC
Police Blackout: Law enforcement agencies in Northern Virginia say you have no right to know what they’re doing.
Radley Balko from the July 2010 issue
Last November a police officer shot and killed David Masters, an unarmed motorist, as he sat in the driver’s seat of his car on the side of Richmond Highway, a major thoroughfare in Fairfax County, Virginia. ...In January of this year, Fairfax County Commonwealth Attorney Raymond Morrogh announced through a press release that he would not be filing any charges against the officer who shot Masters. The shooting, Morrogh found, was justified due to a “furtive gesture” that suggested Masters had a weapon. The only eyewitness to this gesture was the police officer who pulled the trigger.
There exists dash-camera video of Masters’ shooting. There are also police interviews of other witnesses, and there is the police report itself. But the public and the press are unlikely to see those, or even to learn the officer’s name. ...Michael Pope, a reporter who covers Northern Virginia for the Connection Newspapers chain and for WAMU-FM, filed a series of open records requests related to the Masters shooting with the Fairfax County Police Department. All were denied. In March, Pope asked Fairfax County Police Public Information Officer Mary Ann Jennings why her department won’t at least release the incident report on Masters’ death, given the concerns that some have raised about the shooting. “Let us hear that concern,” Jennings shot back. “We are not hearing it from anybody except the media, except individual reporters.”
Except the media? That’s exactly who you would expect to file most open records requests. Asked why her department won’t even release the name of the officer who shot Masters, Jennings got more obtuse. “What does the name of an officer give the public in terms of information and disclosure?” Jennings asked. “I’d be curious to know why they want the name of an officer.”
Well, for starters, because he’s a government employee, paid by taxpayers and entrusted with the power to arrest, detain, coerce, and kill. And he recently used the most serious of those powers on an unarmed man. Releasing the name would allow reporters to see if the officer has been involved in other shootings or if there have been prior disciplinary measures or citizen complaints against him. It would allow the media to assess whether the Fairfax County Police Department has done an adequate job of training him in the use of lethal force.
Then again, journalists can’t get that other information either. The default position of the Fairfax County Police Department, Pope says, is to decline all requests for information. And not just from the media. When a member of the county SWAT team shot and killed 38-year-old optometrist Sal Culosi Jr. in 2006, it took nearly a year, plus legal action, to get the department to release information about its investigation of the shooting to Culosi’s family. Culosi, who had been suspected of wagering on football games with friends, was also unarmed when he was killed.
...Fairfax County hasn’t charged a police officer for an on-duty shooting in 70 years. Perhaps that’s because no officer there has deserved to be charged. But perhaps local police and prosecutors have too cozy a relationship. The point is, we don’t know. And northern Virginia’s cops have made it almost impossible to find out.
I am no fan of Reason magazine but this time the writer is putting some light on legitimate problem. Government power is from the people who authorize it. If there are questions, being open about it would be the best policy.
Now Reason will you show a similar interest in the personal finances of Chris Dodd and Barney Frank or where the Stimulus Bill is going?