Police practice hurts credibility
It stands to reason that someone involved in a shooting would be shaken up.
And it is, of course, of paramount importance for police to gather accurate information about the incident.
But the Hanahan Police Department’s practice of waiting two sleep cycles before taking a statement from an officer involved in a shooting seems arbitrary. And the department’s contention that the wait produces more accurate information isn’t convincing.
It also seems to represent a double standard, given that citizens involved in or witnessing a shooting are asked to give their accounts almost immediately.
On Aug. 19, 22-year-old Travis Jerome Miller was shot to death after he reportedly ran from a traffic stop and fired at police. A week later, there was still no official police report.
Hanahan Police Lt. Michael Fowler said the officers involved were given two sleep cycles before being expected to put anything on paper.
If, as some say, officers can recall events more clearly after having had some sleep and calming down, why wouldn’t it be the same for other observers?
But even that assumption of more accuracy is questionable.
Glenn Smith and Prentiss Findlay reported in Sunday’s Post and Courier on a 2010 study involving Richland County Sheriff’s deputies. It found deputies’ memories were sharper when asked to recount a high-stress incident immediately after it occurred rather than a few days later.
Also, California-based Police Assessment Resource Center recommended such officers be interviewed no later than a few hours after the event.
The International Association of Chiefs of Police guidelines say that investigators should give officers from a few hours to overnight to recover before detailed interviews.
Critics don’t like the double standard. They ask: Why not wait before interviewing witnesses and suspects, too? Good question.
Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen denied there is a double standard. He said witnesses are often given time to calm down, and suspects have the option of not talking to officers or waiting until a lawyer is present.
But if police officers don’t think clearly after a traumatic event, why would it be assumed that witnesses or suspects are clear-headed enough to ask for more time?
Unfortunately, treating police involved in a shooting differently from citizens involved in a shooting harms the credibility of the authorities’ case.
As South Carolina Press Association attorney Jay Bender said, it could appear that the policy gives them time “to go behind the horse shed and get their stories straight.”
That is certainly not to suggest that the Hanahan police officers in the Miller shooting are guilty of a crime. If anything, delaying the process is a disservice to them. Police officers put their lives on the line for the public. In this case, they were reportedly fired upon.
Brave officers who are following the law deserve the public’s thanks, not their suspicions that the system is rigged by giving them more time than others to ponder the event before making official reports. That’s the kind of thinking this policy promotes.