Letter to the editor: Police can't investigate themselves
Police can't investigate themselves
Last month, State Police and a DEA Agent used a battering ram to break down the door of a drug suspect in Burlington and then shot him 13 times. We have just learned that a) only one officer involved in the shooting was wearing a body camera which apparently did not capture what happened once police were inside the victim's apartment, and b) the investigation of the raid and shooting is being led by the Vermont State Police.
What this means, of course, is that we will never know what really happened that day. It is difficult to believe that with all of the technology available to police, there may not even be an accurate video recording of this tragedy. What's worse, this raid and shooting will be investigated by the same police agency that organized and executed the raid! Does anyone expect that the investigation will be objective, transparent, and result in any accountability whatsoever for the officers involved?
This is a perfect illustration of the fallacy of having police agencies investigate the actions of their officers. We can expect that whatever factual review takes place of the Burlington shooting it will be shrouded in secrecy and result in total exoneration for all of the officers involved. This should surprise no one, particularly as the DEA (America's secret police agency) participated in the raid, which was triggered by allegations of drug dealing.
The tragedy and mystery surrounding this shooting illustrates two key points. First, this is yet another example of our failed drug enforcement policy which has cost billions of dollars with little public benefit. We need to divert the excessive funding enjoyed by the DEA and the Vermont Drug Task Force towards prevention and rehabilitation instead. Otherwise we will continue to throw hard earned tax dollars down the drain without decreasing the quality or volume of drugs in Vermont.
Secondly, we need to establish civilian review boards to investigate — and hold accountable — State and local law enforcement involved when a civilian is killed or where police use excessive or deadly force. We would not tolerate any other government agency investigating itself, so why should police departments be treated any differently? This is an area where the Legislature must get involved. Civilian Review Boards in Burlington and Brattleboro work to hold police accountable without interfering with day to day law enforcement operations. It is well past time that Vermonters embrace the idea of Citizen Review Boards to ensure accountability and transparency when (at the very least) someone dies or is injured at the hands of police.
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