The Anaheim Police Department waits 48 hours before interviewing officers who have fatally shot someone while on duty — a policy that is “not consistent with investigations 101,” according to one of the authors of a report released this week on the department’s rules and procedures relating to officer-involved shootings.
That revelation topped a list of findings outlined in the report by the Los Angeles-based Office of Independent Review (OIR) Group, which was commissioned after a spate of officer-involved shootings during the summer of 2012 triggered a riot in downtown Anaheim.
The report also recommended that the department develop a policy that determines the proper procedures for officers when they chase suspects on foot.
Those and other criticisms and suggestions notwithstanding, OIR Group Chief Attorney Michael Gennaco said his review found that overall, the Anaheim department’s policies regarding officer-involved shootings fall in line with those in other departments.
However, he says Anaheim could improve its practices in a number of areas to reduce the chances of a fatal police shooting occurring. And he pointed out that there a number of police shooting victims in Anaheim turned out to be unarmed.
“The policies that Anaheim has are pretty much consistent with most police departments, but we want them to do better than that,” Gennaco said.
A representative of the police union defended the 48-hour rule, and took issue with the recommendation to update the pursuit policy.
City leaders commissioned the report after a pair of fatal police shootings destroyed trust between the police department and working-class Latino neighborhoods and sparked a riot of mostly Latino youth in the downtown that left 20 businesses damaged.
One of the victims, 25 year-old Manuel Diaz, died when a police officer shot him during a foot pursuit. The officer, Nick Bannallack, shot Diaz after he saw the man reach for his waistband, Bannallack told investigators. District Attorney Tony Rackauckas’ office eventually cleared the officer of wrongdoing.
The next day, Joel Acevedo was shot during a police chase. A gun with Acevedo’s DNA was found near his body, according to police. A witness who was arrested at the scene for vehicle theft said she saw officers hold Acevedo down while another executed him.
The DA’s office also cleared Acevedo’s shooter of wrongdoing.
Anaheim has implemented some reforms since the shootings, including requiring officers to wear body cameras and audio recording of uniformed officers. The city also started a civilian public safety review board.
Regarding the 48-hour wait time before interviews, the report said giving officers that much time before having to submit to questioning makes it more likely that their description of events will be corrupted by the passage of time, their review of video of the shooting, or conversations they have with other witnesses
A foot pursuit policy could lead to fewer shootings of unarmed suspects, Gennaco said.
Other police departments have policies that require officers to immediately request assistance from other officers and to end the foot pursuit if a the officer can’t radio broadcast details of the situation, of if the officer loses sight of the suspect, according to the report.
Foot pursuits often end in what the report calls “waistband shootings,” which are situations where the officer says the suspect was reaching for his or her waistband, possibly for a weapon, when it later turns out the suspect was unarmed, the report says.
The report also recommends more specific parameters around identifying an imminent threat. For example, the department’s current policy doesn’t specify whether a suspect trying to escape constitutes an imminent threat, leaving it unclear whether using deadly force is appropriate for those situations.
Kerry Condon, president of the Anaheim Police Officers Association, says he agrees with some recommendations in the report. But he disagrees with the suggestion to undo the 48-hour rule on officers’ statements after they’ve shot someone, arguing that it’s a “proven fact” that officers remember details of the incident better once they’ve had time to recuperate from a traumatic experience.
He says he that the policy is the department’s way of not treating officers like suspects in a criminal case.
“They’re not criminals. We should not treat them like they did a criminal act,” Condon said. “Officers have one shot to give a voluntary statement, and that statement will follow them.”
Condon also said he disagreed with the proposal to implement a foot-pursuit policy. Restricting officers from engaging in foot pursuits could put innocents in harm’s way, according to Condon. And he said officers are already trained in how to conduct such pursuits.
“When we shoot our weapon at someone, we’re not shooting to wound,” Condon said. “That’s why it’s called deadly force.”
Whether the city will implement any of the recommendations is unclear. City spokeswoman Ruth Ruiz said the police would respond to the report at future meetings of the public safety review board, and Condon said he hasn’t heard of any changes on the horizon.
Please contact Adam Elmahrek directly at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter: @adamelmahrek