Fullerton Gets It Right... Almost
Fullerton has started to get it right. The city has hired an independent consultant to investigate the death of Kelly Thomas. This decision shows the city understands that the investigation must not only be independent but also go beyond -- far beyond -- potential criminality. It needs, for instance, to address how the police department trains officers to identify and deal with mentally ill and homeless persons, and how it investigates instances of alleged excessive force. Many questions need to be answered, and we hope and expect that the independent investigator will be vested with the full authority and resources to answer them.
The investigation of police conduct is fundamentally about public accountability. The citizens of Fullerton have vested their police officers with the power to carry and use weapons and to employ deadly force in their service to society. But the citizens must trust that their officers will use that power responsibly, and that trust -- maintaining that trust -- requires a meaningful system of accountability.
So, if Fullerton wants to get it completely right, it should establish a civilian review board. A full and independent investigation should occur as a matter of course in cases like this; it should not depend on the public outcry or the request of a city official. Citizens are entitled to an ongoing mechanism to oversee police practices, not just a one-time response to a high profile incident.
Hector Villagra is the Executive Director of the ACLU/SC.