Writing on these pages, Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch said her "sole responsibility" in the Andy Lopez case "is to determine criminal liability — not to evaluate the Sheriff's Office protocol or training procedures."
Any assessment of protocols and training procedures will come from Sheriff Steve Freitas.
Ravitch's decision is sure to be the subject of a spirited public debate. Regardless of when it's completed, the investigation is bound to be an issue in her re-election campaign this spring.
The sheriff also is an elected official and, as with the district attorney, his term expires this year. So far, Freitas has no challenger.
However, elections aren't the only forum for addressing public concerns about government agencies.
There's a deep reservoir of public support for the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office, and justifiably so. But, since the death of 13-year-old Andy Lopez, it's also clear that the public has questions and concerns about the department's policies governing the lethal use of force and its training standards.
Both are subjects of a review ordered last month by the Board of Supervisors.
Unlike the public task force created to study citizen oversight models, the review is internal.
When it's complete, the results should be presented in public, with an opportunity for public feedback.
As part of this review, we urge the county to look at a policy adopted this week by the Los Angeles Police Police Commission, which handles 30 to 60 officer-involved shooting cases annually. In future cases, the commission elected to consider an officer's actions in the moments before opening fire. In other words, did the officer create a situation in which deadly force became necessary?
Until now, the Los Angeles Times reported, investigations have generally focused on the narrow question of whether an officer faced a deadly threat at the moment he or she fired.
The most important goal is to prevent shootings. While this policy change addresses what happens after a shooting, the new approach may serve the larger goal by identifying circumstances that needlessly lead to lethal force and approaches that can avoid its use.
The review was prompted by a case involving a mentally unstable woman who had refused medication and was acting violently. Officers engaged the woman in her home, the situation escalated and ended in a fatal shooting. The police commission found that the officers were in danger and, therefore, the shooting was justified. But the commission also questioned whether the situation could have been avoided had the officers waited for a mental health team to arrive or made a plan before entering the house.
Authorities address two key questions after an officer-involved shooting. First, was the shooting unlawful? And second, did it follow department procedures.
Just as Ravitch is constrained from discussing details of an ongoing criminal investigation, Freitas must be circumspect about his review of the Lopez shooting.
But as an elected representative, Freitas should play an active and public role in reviewing, revising as necessary and explaining the protocols and policies for using deadly force.