But the public doesn’t know who was involved in each of those incidents. Officials in all three cities so far have declined to publicly identify the officers.
While many cities across the country have made it standard practice to release the names of police officers involved in shootings within a matter of days, Kansas City-area police departments often opt to keep the information secret.
In Kansas, police agencies can choose to never release officers’ names. In Missouri, the names of officers involved in shootings are usually made public only after an investigation is completed.
Police departments on both sides of the metro are lagging behind their counterparts in other cities when it comes to divulging information in a timely manner. And local police agencies’ apparent disinterest in transparency is at odds with guidance from a prominent law enforcement organization.
The International Association of Chiefs of Police suggests releasing names within 48 hours of an incident unless there is a credible threat to an officer. Disclosure enhances public trust and adds to the transparency and perceived integrity of an investigation, a 2016 report from the association said.
Other cities are heeding that counsel. After officer-involved shootings this year in San Jose, Oklahoma City, Tulsa, and North Little Rock, Ark., officials publicly identified the officers within days.
Police chiefs at most agencies have discretion over when to release information. And while many local police departments have gone radio silent and refused to disclose information about controversial cases, some agencies have been far more forthcoming when an officer emerges as a hero.
Local police departments should err on the side of timely transparency, regardless of whether an officer’s actions are commendable or possibly criminal. And the public should know whether an officer has been involved in multiple use-of-force incidents.
As it stands, Kansas City Police won’t reveal names until an investigation is complete. Independence Police proceed in much the same manner.
Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said once prosecutors finish an investigation, the officer’s name is made available in a public file or, when applicable, in charging documents filed in court.
In Kansas, Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe said an officer is considered a victim if he or she is cleared in a shooting. And a victim’s name would never be made public, he said. Overland Park Chief of Police Frank Donchez Jr. said he is hesitant to ever identify an officer involved in a shooting.
Kansas City Chief of Police Rick Smith correctly notes that balancing transparency and maintaining the integrity of the criminal justice process can be difficult.
But officers are public servants with unique policing powers. They are held to a different standard than civilians. And while police agencies must protect officers’ safety, releasing information about officer-involved shootings should be the rule — not the exception.
Following the guidance of the International Association of Chiefs of Police and releasing names within 48 hours would be a good place to start.