Ignoring the smoking gun

Email Raheem F. Hosseini at raheemh@newsreview.com.

Chastened last month by the Sacramento County Grand Jury, District Attorney Jan Scully said on June 28, that her office would jump-start its probes of officer-involved shootings following a two-year hiatus.

But the announcement was really just a smokescreen, since the district attorney’s office isn’t changing policies adopted in July 2011, when Scully claimed budget cuts forced her to stop reviewing every instance of a cop discharging his or her weapon.

Instead, Scully’s office will continue its practice of assigning investigators only if there are “extenuating circumstances” and will base any analysis “solely” on the work of the investigating agency, which is almost always the officer’s own department.

That’s like writing a book review from the publisher’s marketing materials, so scrap any hopes of real third-party oversight.

In reality, the DA wasn’t all that scrutinizing even before the cuts. In more than 30 years of supposed oversight, the office took issue with only two law-enforcement shootings. But when the DA pulled its phantom goalie two Julys ago, incidents of cops discharging firearms took a sharp uptick. The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department tallied 13 such incidents by its lonesome in 2012, more than double the previous year.

Correlation doesn’t necessarily mean causation. Several factors could explain the troubling escalation, including an ever-deepening lack of mental-health resources and random, shitty luck. Neither the sheriff’s nor Sacramento police departments have recorded a single officer-involved shooting this year so far, for instance.

The grand-jury report couldn’t identify any patterns linking the 13 deputy shootings from last year, but did note “issues of tactics and policy” that could benefit from expanded and continuing training, as well as a review of common practices. It further noted that the county’s only other oversight agency, the Office of Inspector General, which is tasked with examining each deputy shooting, did little more than summarize sheriffs’ press releases in its own annual report, released in January.

With the OIG already providing such weak-tea analysis, it’s imperative that the public isn’t manipulated into a false sense of security. Which is what makes the DA’s bogus announcement so troubling. By the office’s own admission, it isn’t resuming its review so much as prolonging its current lack of it.

But thanks for the press release.