On Tuesday, Feb. 26, dozens of people from across the country gathered to address the persistent issue of fatalities at the hands of police officers. They launched a Toolkit designed for prosecutors and community members nationwide to prevent and address these incidents. During the event at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, district attorneys, law enforcement and family members who have lost loved ones spoke about their personal experiences and about the year-long collaborative process to create the first-of-its-kind Toolkit.
“Few things contribute more to the tension between law enforcement and communities than the prevalence of police-involved fatalities,” said Lucy Lang, director of the Institute for Innovation in Prosecution. “These tragedies and the lack of trust that emerges are of pressing national importance.”
Approximately 1,000 people, disproportionately people of color, are killed in officer-involved critical incidents every year. An analysis by The Washington Post reports that between 2005 and 2015, only 54 police officers faced criminal charges for fatally shooting someone in the line of duty, and nearly half of such cases resulted in acquittal or dismissal.
“Despite the amount of public discussion around this issue, concrete actions are too few and far between, and prosecutors—as local elected law enforcement officials—can play a critical role in filling this gap,” continued Lang. “We are working hard to change that and this Toolkit represents an important first step.”
At Tuesday’s event, leaders from all sides of this issue—prosecutors, law enforcement experts and family members directly impacted—emphasized the importance of taking this first step together.
“It’s so important for families who have experienced these tragedies to be a part of the conversation about how to prevent them in the future. We hope the Toolkit, which was informed by our insight, will help guide prosecutors and police in taking step to address police shootings so that other families don’t have to experience them,” said Kadiatou Diallo, author, social activist and mother of Amadou Diallo.
Families represented in the working group and today’s event included those of Anthony Baez, killed in 1994 in the Bronx at the age of 29; Amadou Diallo, killed in 1999 in the Bronx at the age of 23; Sean Bell, killed in 2006 in Queens at the age of 23; Oscar Grant, killed in 2009 in Oakland, Calif., at the age of 22; Eric Garner, killed in 2014 in Staten Island at the age of 44; Philando Castile killed in 2016 in Falcon Heights, Minn., at the age of 32; and Delrawn Small, killed in 2016 in Brooklyn at 37 years of age.
The Toolkit emerged from the year-long collaboration of more than 40 family members, law enforcement experts and prosecutors who met regularly at John Jay College. They convened around the shared goals of reducing the likelihood of police use-of-force and providing a path to accountability for unjustified force, and produced the Toolkit as a means to reach these aims.
“As a former police chief with over 30 years’ experience, I know firsthand how the issue of the police use of deadly force strikes at the heart of both public trust and community and officer safety: two concepts that are neither mutually exclusive nor in opposition,” said Ron Davis, retired police chief and director of President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing.
“This Toolkit provides meaningful guidance to prosecutors, police and the communities they serve, in addressing officer-involved fatalities and critical incidents in a manner that respects both concepts. The process used to create the Toolkit demonstrates the power of collaboration and reinforces the need to bring all stakeholders to the table, even those with varying and opposing views, when addressing our greatest challenges,” Davis said.
San Joaquin County’s district attorney, Tori Verber Salazar, echoed these sentiments, stating that impacted family members are a critical—but often missing—voice at the table, providing insights that can “open up the door to see this critical issue from other perspectives.”
“Including family members’ voices as stakeholders in the process has been instrumental in identifying better pathways to deliver justice,” said Salazar. “The IIP Toolkit gives every prosecutor a pathway to build community trust and transparency by implementing best evidence-based practices to do better. The Toolkit serves as a mechanism to empower families and communities with knowledge and an opportunity to have their say and to heal.”
The Toolkit, which will be distributed to DA’s offices across the country, includes a step-by-step process prosecutors can use to ensure thorough, transparent and timely investigations as well as recommendations such as dedicated staff who meet with organizers, develop relationships with family members, and respond to the scene immediately.
To learn more visit https://www.prosecution.org/participation.