Police officers in Portland, Ore., who were involved in a shooting that resulted in death or serious physical injury were previously given 48 hours during which they could consult with an attorney before having to make a statement about the shooting. It was a rule that was objected to by advocates for police accountability.
In October, then-Mayor Charlie Hales and the Portland City Council approved a new police contract that struck down the 48-hour rule, but the Willamette Week reports that current Mayor Ted Wheeler said in a statement Thursday that the rule is back in effect because the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office has determined that it can’t prosecute cases in which the city compelled an officer to give his or her account of a shooting immediately after it happened.
The policy change stems from a March memo (pdf) in which the DA argued that compelling an officer to make a statement while a criminal investigation was ongoing would either grant the officer immunity from prosecution or violate an officer’s “right to remain silent” under the Oregon Constitution. The DA advised the Oregon Police Department to wait until a criminal investigation had concluded before compelling an officer to give a statement about a shooting.
Criminal investigations can sometimes go on for weeks, and Portland’s independent Community Oversight Advisory Board argues that a police officer’s memory of a shooting will never be as accurate as in the hours just after it happens.
Also, as In Justice Today notes:
Reform advocates argue that delaying an interview with an officer involved in a fatal shooting may ultimately taint the statement they give. Given a longer time to review the incident and go over it with peers, an officer may be more likely to fabricate parts of their statement or forget critical parts of what happened. Police unions, which generally support the 48-hour rule (which exists in multiple other states), tend to argue that after a traumatic event like a shooting, an officer is more likely to give an inaccurate statement because of the stressful experience if he or she is forced to immediately recount it to internal affairs. The science behind that theory is contested.
So, is 48 hours too long to wait for a police officer to give a statement after a fatal shooting?
In the opinion of this writer, yes. For the sake of transparency, the officers and the department should want a statement to go out as soon as possible. If there is nothing to hide and everything is on the up-and-up, why wait to get the story out there?
Waiting until a criminal investigation is over seems like an excuse to drag out holding officers accountable for their actions. It’s not as if many of these criminal investigations have yielded convictions anyway, so why the holdup in letting officers tell their side?
Portland seems to be indicating that it isn’t capable of conducting an administrative and a criminal investigation at the same time while keeping the two separate. One would think this wouldn’t be an issue because, again, if the aim is getting at the truth, then that should be a priority in both investigations no matter the outcome.
But maybe the real goal is clearing the police of wrongdoing even when they have done wrong.
What do you think?