EDITORIAL: State police shouldn't investigate shootings by its own troopers
Gov. Tom Wolf received some sage advice recently from some ordinary Pennsylvanians.
He would do well to act on it — immediately.
On Tuesday, Jan 2, a grand jury in Easton released a scathing report saying the “arrogant” Pennsylvania State Police should stop investigating shootings by its own troopers to ensure that such probes are transparent and “free from potential bias.”
The grand jury then urged Wolf to force the agency to step aside and allow for an independent investigation when a shooting involves one of its own, citing a national climate of “distrust of law enforcement” over police shootings.
We couldn’t agree more. The troopers of the PSP are not above the law.
Allowing PSP troopers to investigate shootings by other PSP troopers is not just a bad look, it’s a blatant conflict of interest and must be rectified.
The PSP has long insisted on retaining jurisdiction over probes of line-of-duty shootings by its troopers, and that position shows no signs of wavering.
So, it’s up to Wolf to force the PSP to change its ways.
So far, Wolf’s response has been tepid, at best.
Wolf’s spokesman, J.J. Abbott said the governor has confidence in the state police, “but he is also open to feedback.”
The grand jury, made up of John and Jane Citizen, has given Wolf plenty of feedback. Now he needs to take action.
This, in no way, is meant to disparage the overall efforts of the PSP. Our state troopers perform a dangerous and stressful job, and for the most part, do it quite well.
Still, individual troopers are not above reproach. Unfortunately, a number of troopers have been convicted of crimes in the past. They are human, just like the rest of us, and capable of wrongdoing.
When one of those troopers is involved in a shooting, he or she should not be investigated by fellow troopers.
The grand jury: The grand jury was sought by Northampton County District Attorney John Moganelli after state police refused to allow his detectives to take the lead on a probe of a fatal trooper shooting near Easton.
The state police then went to court in an unsuccessful attempt to quash the grand jury, arguing the panel had no authority to investigate PSP internal procedures. The grand jury found that effort an “arrogant attempt to intimidate the grand jury.”
The grand jury eventually found that the particular shooting in question was justified. Despite that fact, the grand jury said it had “serious questions and concerns” about how the state police conducted the investigation, claiming the involved troopers “were given special treatment by the investigating team.”
The grand jury also made the very reasonable recommendation that state police outfit all troopers with body cameras. Unfortunately, state police ignored a similar recommendation made by another grand jury in 2014.
The grand jury’s recommendations are not binding on the state police and it would be a complete shock if the PSP opted for any serious changes in the way it investigates its own.
“The Pennsylvania State Police remains confident that the necessary protocols are in place to conduct all investigations in fair, impartial and transparent manner,” state police spokesman Ryan Tarkowski said.
Because not all perceive the PSP's policies around investigating its own as transparent. And perception is also a critical component of public trust.
Given the PSP's stance, it’s well past time for Wolf to step in.
It will certainly not be a popular move within the PSP, which is charged with protecting the governor.
Naturally, Wolf will likely be hesitant to upset the troopers tasked with his security, but it’s a change that must be made.