Independent probes help reassure public

A State Bureau of Investigation inquiry into a fatal shooting by a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer may or may not conclude anything different from the department's own investigation. But an independent inquiry is the best way to assure the public that the right questions are asked and answered when a police officer uses deadly force.

That's why that step should be standard practice in Charlotte-Mecklenburg. Rodney Monroe should adopt that policy when he becomes police chief this month.

District Attorney Peter Gilchrist has asked the SBI to probe the death of Aaron Winchester, 21, from gunshot wounds to the back May 20, a residential street north of uptown. That's a welcome step.

It doesn't mean the officer who shot him did anything wrong. Nor should it pre-empt CMPD's own criminal probe, which is under way. Yet accounts of what happened differ sharply. Questions need to be settled to the public's satisfaction.

Police said Mr. Winchester ran after being questioned about a domestic incident that resulted in a traffic accident. Officers said he reached for something in his back right pocket and started to turn toward the officer with a gun in his hand. A small silver handgun was found inches from his body.

Witnesses saw it differently. They said they did not see Mr. Winchester reach for a gun. The best way to resolve those discrepancies is with an independent probe.

At present, Charlotte-Mecklenburg homicide detectives typically investigate the department's officer-involved shootings and present their findings to the district attorney. Other officers do an internal investigation to determine whether departmental policies were followed.

That practice should continue. But when deadly force is used, standard policy should also require an investigation by an outside agency. We've said that repeatedly, and now the NAACP has made the same request. An independent probe is in the best interest of both police and citizens.

Why? Police must have the public's trust to do their jobs effectively. The public confidence provided by an independent evaluation of a police shooting is of critical value to CMPD and Charlotte's residents.