Rules cover shootings involving officers
District attorneys from Chester, Montgomery counties explain recently released guidelines
Hoping to give guidance on a controversial issue, the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association released recommendations Tuesday for local police departments and district attorneys to handle a shooting incident involving a police officer.
The guidelines are meant to streamline, where possible, the best practices for investigating an officer-involved shooting while maintaining a reasonable degree of transparency with the public.
Among other things, the guidelines recommend that all shooting investigations involving an officer be conducted by an outside agency at the direction of the local district attorney.
This recommendation, according to Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan, and Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele, has already been in place for their respective counties.
With the recommendation that outside agencies conduct an investigation into an officer-involved shooting rather than the police department to which the officer belongs, the district attorneys hope will remove a potential avenue of criticism.
Both Hogan and Steele recounted different incidents where an investigation into an officerinvolved shooting was conducted by an outside agency, typically the county detectives.
For Chester County, Hogan mentioned the in-
cident where a sheriff shot
and killed Curtis Smith in August 2015. Smith, 34, of Coatesville, had barged into the Chester County Justice Center and slashed at a different sheriff with a knife,
according to authorities.
Following a case of an officer-involved shooting, the guidelines recommend the district attorney release a preliminary report to the
public, and follow up with a more comprehensive one when the investigation is complete.
“The protocols themselves speak to how the public will be informed,” Hogan said. “The public will see the same thing the district attorney will see.”
“Historically, we try to be accessible,” Steele said. “Everything will depend on the circumstances.”
Additionally, both said in the case of an officerinvolved shooting, the officer’s name would most likely not be released unless charges are brought against him or her, and
both said this has been a standard practice of theirs.
There are 16 guidelines total, detailing who should handle the crime scene, how evidence is handled, how involved officers should be interviewed, and the release of video and audio recordings to the public.
According to the guidelines, if a recording of the shooting exists, it can be released if the shooting is deemed justified, but not if the officer is charged.
“These are guidelines we hope everyone can incorporate,” Steele said.
These guidelines were developed by the Pennsylvania
District Attorneys Association’s best practices committee, of which Hogan serves as the chairman.
“Pennsylvania’s law enforcement agencies have the skills and ethics to do these investigations,” Hogan wrote in a prior statement. “But engaging an independent agency in the investigation removes any questions or negative perceptions that may come from the community.”
To contact Daily Local News staff writer Adam Farence, email afarence@ dailylocal.com, or call 610235-2647.