Opinion

When police shoot and kill, outside probe is best

Charlotte-Mecklenburg awaits the findings of a State Bureau of Investigation inquiry into the fatal shooting of a 21-year-old suspect by a police officer. That probe may or may not shed new light on what happened. It may or may not conclude anything different from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department's own investigation.

Yet an outside inquiry can settle questions that have emerged about deadly police shootings in a way that an internal probe cannot.

It's the best way to assure the public that the right questions are being asked and answered. Chief Rodney Monroe should make it a standard, not occasional, practice.

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

A police department should investigate when its officers use deadly force. But it ought to be standard to ask an outside agency to investigate, too. Most other cities in the state use the SBI.

What's the issue? The public confidence provided by an independent evaluation of a police shooting is of critical value to CMPD and Charlotte's residents. The death of Aaron Winchester shows why.

Mr. Winchester died from gunshot wounds to the back May 20. Accounts of what happened differ sharply.

Police said Mr. Winchester ran after being questioned. Officers said he reached for something in his back 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 the incident differently. They said they did not see Mr. Winchester reach for his gun.

Those discrepancies need to be settled to the public's satisfaction. That's best done through a look by outside eyes.

CMPD is reviewing its training and policies, including its training in use of deadly force, after two recent deadly shootings. That's a responsible step. One key change should be to make an independent investigation automatic when a cop fatally shoots someone.

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