After spending months researching ways to improve investigations of officer-involved shootings, two Stanford Law students recently traveled to Sacramento to testify in front of the California State Assembly’s Public Safety Committee. Their testimony concerned a recently introduced Assembly Bill that would establish a process for conducting independent reviews of officer-involved shootings.
On Tuesday, April 18, Amari Hammonds ‘17 and Rachel Rose Suhr ‘18 spoke in front of the Public Safety Committee regarding AB 284, introduced in the State Assembly by Assemblymember Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento) in February. McCarty’s office reached out to the Stanford Criminal Justice Center for expert testimony because of the Center’s work studying police shootings.The Improving Investigations of Police Shootings policy practicum finished its work in the fall of 2016 with the delivery of a policy report on the matter. One of the report’s main conclusions was that investigations of police shootings benefit from independent and impartial review, something that AB 284 aims to address.
“Our students did a superb job researching and analyzing the difficult question of how investigations of officer-involved shootings can best be structured to balance the competing concerns of accountability, independence, and expertise,” said Stanley Morrison Professor of Law David Alan Sklansky, faculty co-director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center. “I’m very proud of the work they did, and happy to see it put to good use.”
“There’s an inherent conflict of interest when officers involved in shootings are typically investigated by their own employing agencies and the district attorneys they work with on cases,” said Hammonds. “This can be hard to hear for local investigators who genuinely believe they can be impartial — kind of like how it can be hard to hear that even well-intentioned people have implicit bias. But we all want a system that is just for everyone, so I’m excited to see California moving forward on creating a statewide investigative unit.”
Hammonds also noted that the added independence of AB 284’s proposed Statewide Officer-Involved Shooting Investigation Team would go a long way towards rebuilding public trust and fostering confidence in investigations and subsequent charging decisions.
“The problem of police officer shootings in California will not be solved solely by the manner in which they are criminally investigated and prosecuted,” added Suhr. “But independence, expertise, transparency, and promptness in these investigations and charging determinations are critical to the solution.”
Now that AB 284 has passed through the Public Safety Committee with bipartisan support, it will next go to the Appropriations Committee at the end of May, where it needs a majority vote to move on to consideration by the full State Assembly.
About the Law and Policy Lab
The Law and Policy Lab at Stanford Law School offers more than 20 practicums a year, in which law and other graduate students from Stanford get to work on a real public policy issue for a real client under the supervision of a faculty member. The practicums give students opportunities to develop knowledge about particular areas of public policy and the skills of policy analysis, including the ability to communicate policy findings.
About the Stanford Criminal Justice Center
Founded in 2005, the Stanford Criminal Justice Center (SCJC) serves as a research and policy institute on issues related to the criminal justice system. Our efforts are geared both towards generating policy research for the public sector, as well as providing pedagogical opportunities to Stanford Law School students with academic or careers in interests in criminal law and crime policy. The Stanford Criminal Justice Center is led by Faculty Co-Directors Professors Joan Petersilia, David Sklansky, and Robert Weisberg, and Executive Director Debbie Mukamal.