Columns » Voice of Reason

All officer-involved shootings should be independently investigated


Perception is reality.

Political strategist Lee Atwater is credited with creating the phrase in the 1980s. And his popular dissection of self-awareness could not be more significant today.

Atwater knew that truth is created in the mind of the beholder — whether the perception is true or not.

Right now, the perception of many in Colorado Springs is that the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office investigation of the Colorado Springs police officers involved in the De’Von Bailey shooting could not have been conducted fairly. The Fourth Judicial District Attorney’s Office is in the process of reviewing EPSO’s findings.

The lack of faith is largely due to the fact that Pete Carey, El Paso County undersheriff, is the former police chief of the Colorado Springs Police Department. Carey is less than one year removed from his CSPD tenure.

Critics of the investigation think the police department and the sheriff’s office are too close — both in proximity and long-standing relationships — to guarantee an unbiased investigation into any officer-involved shooting. When it comes to optics, The Independent agrees.

Perception is reality.

As long as the Bailey investigation remains in El Paso County, those who believe he was wrongfully shot in the back by police as he fled (while armed) will never accept a ruling that lets the two involved officers walk away unpunished.

The fact is, jurisdictions throughout the country have very different approaches to investigating officer-involved shootings.

Many agencies, such as the Kansas City and San Jose police departments, conduct internal investigations.

On the other hand, Wisconsin passed a state law addressing officer-involved shootings. Such incidents: “…must require an investigation conducted by at least 2 investigators, one of whom is the lead investigator and neither of whom is employed by a law enforcement agency that employs a law enforcement officer involved in the officer-involved death.”

Wisconsin, in 2014, was the first in the nation to pass a state law requiring law enforcement agencies to hand over officer-involved shooting investigations to other jurisdictions.

Some argue civilian oversight committees are the answer, while others claim investigations by such committees don’t match the thoroughness of investigations led by law enforcement.

Some law enforcement personnel welcome civilian oversight. At, a site populated by articles written by law enforcement practitioners, an article titled “Can Professional Civilian Oversight Improve Community-Police Relations?” states: “Professional civilian oversight of law enforcement agencies can transform organizational culture in a positive way. Changes in technology, widespread access to the Internet, smartphones, 24/7 access to continual loops of news, and organized activism are just a few of the factors nudging law enforcement toward the future of professional civilian oversight. These factors, combined with the complex societal issues with which the police are asked to deal, are creating an atmosphere ripe for change. Law enforcement agencies, though, have often resisted civilian oversight. Across the United States, however, policing has changed, and professional civilian oversight could be exactly what is needed to regain legitimacy, boost morale, increase the hiring of diverse candidates and improve public safety.”

Truth: There have been more than 40 officer-involved shootings in Colorado so far this year. Twenty-four people have died. Each deserves a just investigation. We believe an independent investigative body should be created by the state and housed within the state Attorney General’s office. It should be made up of both qualified civilians and law enforcement personnel who, by design, hold each other accountable.

Law enforcement is, at its core, about an unwavering pursuit of the truth, no matter who is involved.

Perception is reality, and anyone affected by an officer-involved shooting — from officers to civilians to the suspects themselves — should know bias (both real and perceived) won’t be tolerated in any investigation.

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