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Is It Fair For Police to Investigate Themselves?

Posted on Jun 25, 2013

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is facing intense public scrutiny following an incident that transpired in Orlando, FL in which one of their agents shot and killed an unarmed man during an interview. But instead of facing an independent, third-party investigation, the FBI will be allowed to review the incident internally to determine whether any misconduct took place.

In an attempt to alleviate public skepticism, the FBI has stated, “The FBI takes very seriously any shooting incidents involving our agents, and as such we have an effective, time-tested process for addressing them internally.”

Even though the incident took place in the state of Florida and two Massachusetts State officers were present when it happened, there will be no investigation into this matter by anyone other than the FBI. And since the FBI’s jurisdiction presides over local law enforcement, neither the Florida nor the Massachusetts Police Departments could investigate even if they felt it was necessary.

Adding fuel to the fire of public cynicism is the recent New York Times article which reported that the FBI’s “time-tested process” exonerated itself all 150 times their agents killed or wounded people from 1993-2011. This same “process” will be used to determine if the FBI is guilty of any wrongdoing in the death of 27-year old Ibragim Todashev, which his father claims was an execution style murder.

NBC News Television host Rachel Maddow publicly criticized this process citing an incident mentioned in the New York Times article in which an FBI agent shot an innocent man in the head (non-fatally) resulting in a $1.3 million settlement for damages. Even in this extreme case, the FBI’s internal investigation claimed the shooting was justified.

Joining Maddow for the discussion was Pulitzer Prize winner and author of Enemies: The History of the FBI author Tim Weiner, who raised the question, “Who is going to police the police?” Both Weiner and Maddow indicated that they doubt the veracity of the FBI’s internal investigation.

On a local level, the 2004 shooting of Kenosha, WI resident Michael Bell raised similar questions as the Todashev murder in Orlando. Like Todashev, Bell was killed by law enforcement officials, in this case by the Kenosha Police Department, and his family still wonders why no independent has taken place.

After Bell’s murder, the Kenosha Police Department’s internal investigation found no wrong-doing on the part of its officers. Bell’s family maintains that the Police’s testimony is inconsistent with forensic evidence and the Chief Medical Examiner agrees. Still, no independent investigation has taken place and none is forthcoming.

In the eyes of many, it is nearly impossible to expect a law enforcement agency to objectively investigate its own incidents. It all goes back to Weiner’s fundamental question, “Who is going to police the police?”