PD Editorial: Seeking ways to avoid deadly confrontations

  • Law enforcement investigators photograph the body of a 13-year-old boy was shot and killed by officers near the corner of Moorland and West Robles avenues in Santa Rosa on Tuesday, October 22, 2013. The teenager was spotted carrying what appeared to be a rifle shortly after 3 p.m. by deputies on patrol, but was actually a pellet gun modeled after an AK-47. (Conner Jay/The Press Democrat)

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?

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