Facing a rise in police excessive force cases often gone viral on social media, a national group of prosecutors issued a “guidance document” Friday designed to help law enforcement work in a more public and proactive manner.
Led by Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker, the report by the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys urges local and regional agencies to be more transparent, quickly respond to a scene and create written internal protocols.
Baker, who co-chaired the national effort, said the most important piece of the report, entitled “21st Century Principles of Prosecution: Peace Officer Use of Force Project,” is transparency. Many cases are kept secret by a grand jury, Baker says, but prosecutors should share their deliberations in excessive force cases because they involved police officers.
“To recognize that these (cases) are a little bit different, because it does involve a public official, so to speak, someone who has the public trust,” Baker says. “We need to treat these differently by opening up our processes and our review of what we did to the public in a much broader way.”
Baker has done this in Kansas City, as she has a “use of force” committee that has revealed some of its investigations in the past. Last year, she charged a Kansas City Police officer after he was caught on video holding, cursing and threatening a Mexican-American man. The officer, Shannon Hansen, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and served a short period of time in jail, as KCUR reported last May.
The report also counsels local law enforcement to write a memo of understanding that outlines specific roles for each agency and “incorporating the core principles of human dignity, prosecutorial independence, responsible transparency and procedural fairness and justice.” Baker says that will prepare prosecutors for the inevitable case of excessive force.
“Be ahead of the problem and be thinking about what your process is going to be before you’re in the thick of it,” she says. “Sit down with your local police department and see how far you can get on crafting responsibilities.”
Peggy Lowe is KCUR's investigations editor. She can be found on Twitter at @peggyllowe.