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AG should investigate all cop shootings

AG should investigate all cop shootings

Questions arise even in cases where suspect is armed

In any case involving a police officer killing civilian in the line of duty, there are always questions about whether police acted properly.

Those questions become more pointed when it turns out the victim was unarmed.

But police officers' conduct and departmental procedures in the use of deadly force also might be rightly called into question — even if the person killed by the officer was carrying a weapon or otherwise threatening the officer.

Such is the situation happening now in Troy, where a police officer shot and killed a 37-year-old Watervliet man after a traffic pursuit in April after the man pinned the officer between another vehicle and the one he was driving.

It might seem like and open-and-shut case in favor of the officer's right to defend himself. And in fact, a grand jury presented with the case by Rennselaer County District Attorney Joe Abelove did clear the officer.

But further investigation by the state Attorney General's Office raised more questions. Under an executive order signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo last year, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has the power to look into police killings of unarmed individuals.

Abelove and Schneiderman are now in dispute over who has jurisdiction to investigate the case.

The same questions might be raised over another recent police shooting in which Rotterdam police shot and killed a 30-year-old ex-Marine who attacked them with a knife in his mother's Roberta Road home. A police officer was wounded in the attack.

State Police quickly swooped in and pronounced the shooting as justified. And it certainly could have been. The man attacked police. They begged him to put down the knife. They defended themselves. They even tried, unsuccessfully, to subdue the man with a Taser before shooting him with their real guns. There's every chance the shooting was completely, 100 percent justified.

But questions also could be raised in this case about whether police contributed to the escalation of the situation by so quickly going into the home where the suspect was holed up. They'd already cleared the house of other individuals, and the man was holding a knife, not a loaded gun.

Were the police procedures cited and the officers’ actions taken truly the best way to engage a suspect who initially posed no danger to anyone other than to himself?

Could the police entering the room have played a factor into the man attacking them and therefore prompting them to shoot him? Should someone with experience in dealing with mentally unstable individuals have been brought in to try to negotiate a peaceful ending?

Of course, hindsight is 20/20. But that’s why it’s often wise to look back.

Certainly, there are gray areas in each of these situations. Very few cases are black and white.

That's why the governor should expand his original executive order to have the Attorney General's Office investigate all officer-involved killings, regardless of whether the suspect was considered armed or not.

The purpose of this wouldn't be to find a way around the local grand jury system to prosecute honest cops. It wouldn't be to subvert the authority of the local district attorney.

It would be — as the original executive order stated — "to ensure that a full, reasoned, and independent investigation and prosecution of any such incident is conducted without conflict or bias, or the perception of conflict or bias."

One way to remove the ambiguity and to better assure the public that these cases are being investigated fully and independently is to hand over all police-involved killings to the attorney general.

Maybe these state investigations will lead to a better understanding of how police react in certain situations and perhaps lead to changes in protocol or procedure that help them better handle such incidents in the future.

And maybe that could save lives.

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