January 4, 2011

Officers refuse to participate under new inquest system

When County Commissioner Steve Sisolak began an effort to reform the coroner's inquest process, Chris Collins, president of the police officer's union, was one of the most vocal opponents of the proposed changes. He repeatedly warned that the changes would make the process too adversarial and threatened that he would tell his officers not to participate.

He wasn't bluffing:

In the first test of the county’s new rules for reviewing police-involved deaths, officers connected with the Dec. 11 death of a suspect who was shot with a Taser are refusing to cooperate with investigators.

Their refusal to make voluntary statements to Metro’s Force Investigation Team is on the advice of the Las Vegas Police Protective Association, said Chris Collins, president of the officers union. From Collins’ standpoint, not only is the officers’ refusal to cooperate the right thing to do, it marks the beginning of the end of the coroner’s inquest system.

With the changes now in place, Collins' has expressed a desire to "nail the coffin shut" on the whole inquest process. His stated goal is to avoid a situation where his officers are questioned four separate times about the incident -- once during an internal investigation, once during the inquest process, and then if the case goes to civil trial, once during a deposition and then once during the trial.

Instead, Collins wants his officers to skip the internal investigation and inquest process and only have his officers participate -- if it occurs at all -- in the deposition and civil trial.

Collins may not like -- he may even loathe -- the changes to the inquest process, but should acknowledge that any death involves many individuals. What about the family and friends of those shot and killed by police? What about the public at large in which the officers are sworn to "protect and serve?" Don't they also deserve some measure of accountability when officers use deadly force?

Police officers are given an awesome power in the community -- a monopoly on the legal use of force. But with that power comes great responsibility and scrutiny.

I understand Collins' position as a union boss, but he should consider the full ramifications of his directives and the effect they have on the trust between the police and the public.