Friday, June 24, 2005

The Death of Kendra James

If you ever hear that the District Attorney is holding an inquest into a police shooting, you can figure the fix is in. The hearing is a dog and pony show to satisfy the public. In Multnomah County at least, the only verdicts available to a coroner's jury is death by suicide, accident, natural causes or homicide. Death by homicide means death by the hands of another and makes no judgement as to whether the homicide was justified or not. Ditto for the grand jury's freedom to adequately determine fault. 90% of the time, the jury will do exact what the District Attorney wants, there is no right to cross-examine witnesses. The real information comes out in the civil trial as is happening now in the shooting of Kendra James by Officer Scott McCollister. I'm not in the courtroom, but it seems that McCollister is taking a beating by the plaintiff's attorneys.

What exactly should we look at in a police shooting case? There are four elements to examine. The first is policies and procedures. At the time of the James shooting, (in my opinion), Portland Police Bureau policies and procedures did not meet current standards. They allowed shooting at a moving vehicle and were less restrictive than most other police departments in the state of Oregon. To PPB's credit, those policies have been revised and improved. The second area to examine is training. Recently, I attended a day long training session conducted by PPB's Training Division and found the Use of Deadly Force section excellent. The instructors were professional and the video game-like shooting simulator was way-cool. I do have some quibbles about how PPB trains their officers, but their firearms instruction is first rate. The next area is supervision. Most of the supervisors I've met who work at PPB are first rate, but there have been breakdowns in supervision. Look at Centralgate or the coverup of the assault on a citizen by two off-duty officers. The final area is personnel, the officer him or herself. That's what the civil trial in the James case is trying to determine: was there a failure in policy, training, and supervision, or was the individual officer at fault? I have my hunch how this one will fall, but the jury has the final say.

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