PD Editorial: What next? Civilian review board debate

  • Demonstrators make their way through the streets towards the County of Sonoma Office of the District Attorney to protest the death of Andy Lopez in Santa Rosa on Tuesday, November 5, 2013. (Conner Jay/The Press Democrat)

<i>Editor's note: This is the third in a series of editorials on changes we believe the community should explore in the aftermath of the Oct. 22 shooting of 13-year-old Andy Lopez by a Sonoma County sheriff's deputy.</i><br>

Will the Santa Rosa police thoroughly and objectively investigate the death of Andy Lopez?

A variation on that question is asked after almost every officer-involved shooting. Change the names of the cop and the victim, but the fundamental concern is the same: Is there an insurmountable conflict of interest when one law enforcement agency polices another?

We're not convinced.

However, the appearance of a conflict is undeniable. And the erosion of trust in large segments of the community is unmistakable.

The time to talk is now.

But there's no benefit in recycling the same tired points. Unfortunately, in the four weeks since Deputy Erick Gelhaus shot Andy Lopez, that's really all we have heard.

Demonstrators are calling for a civilian review, and law enforcement officials are offering assurances that they are delivering exactly that. "We have right now a civilian grand jury that automatically reviews each protocol case," Sheriff Steve Freitas said. "They review every one."

Here is the most recent report on an officer-involved shooting in Sonoma County: "The Grand Jury's review of the critical incident report confirmed that required protocols were followed." The rest is boilerplate. How did the grand jurors reach their conclusion? Your guess is as good as ours. The proceedings are secret.

That's one reason why a federal advisory committee that reviewed police shootings in Sonoma County concluded that the grand jury isn't an appropriate venue for civilian review. The committee also expressed reservations about the grand jury's close association with the District Attorney's Office, which participates in all officer-involved shooting investigations and determines whether any criminal charges are warranted.

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