FBI agents will help investigate some officer-involved shootings and excessive force complaints against Kansas City police officers under an agreement the Police Department, federal officials and prosecutors signed earlier this year, officials announced Thursday.
Four cases already are under investigation, though authorities would not identify those Thursday.
Prosecutors, police and federal agents began discussing the arrangement 18 to 24 months ago — months before a white Ferguson, Mo., police officer’s fatal shooting of an unarmed black teen sparked prolonged protests and helped ignite the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Every member of the community expects and deserves the protection of law enforcement that is effective, responsive, respectful and most importantly constitutional — each day,” U.S. Attorney Tammy Dickinson said during a news briefing.
Police departments and other law enforcement agencies may investigate themselves correctly 99 percent of the time, but self-policing still leaves a negative perception in the community, Dickinson said.
“It is our hope it will go a long way to sustain public trust,” she said. “I have told agencies over and over again that if you have got a shooting, if you have got a use of force, I don’t care what it is, we need an independent third party to come in and investigate this.
“You have got to take some affirmative steps to change that perception.”
The FBI, which opens hundreds of civil rights cases nationwide each year, already had the power to investigate “color of the law” violations nationwide, including excessive-use-of-force actions. In fiscal year 2014, “color of the law” cases accounted for 43 percent of the bureau’s 1,350 civil rights cases.
But under the new agreement, cooperation between investigators and prosecutors here in Kansas City is set up before a shooting or other incident happens.
The FBI, U.S. attorney’s office, Jackson County prosecutor and Kansas City police investigations bureau will review the incident and determine whether it should be investigated as a possible federal civil rights violation or a possible state law violation, the agreement says.
“We have been trying to find ways to show transparency, to live up to the notion that all must be held accountable and nobody is above the law in any circumstance,” said Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker.
Whenever there is an indication of possible misconduct, federal investigators and prosecutors will remain involved. However, if a shooting obviously was justified, federal officials would back out.
The agreement is “significant from the standpoint that it is not strictly designed to be reactive to allegations,” said Eric K. Jackson, the special agent in charge of Kansas City’s FBI office. “It brings the parties involved together to address these types of violations proactively.”
Recruits at the regional police academy will receive training from the FBI about civil rights violations, Jackson said.
As Jackson and other officials talked about the agreement last week with a local anti-crime group, its members urged them to let the public know about the arrangement.
“This is a first great step, and I am hoping that others around the country take note of it,” said Damon Daniel, executive director of the Ad Hoc Group Against Crime. “This is a great opportunity, especially when you think about the climate across the country and what is happening.”