Why are Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, and Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner afraid of independent investigations of police shootings?

In 2016, the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association endorsed using an independent investigative agency for every police shooting of a civilian. This means that if a police officer from Police Department X shoots a civilian, then Police Department X may not investigate itself for the shooting; Police Department Y, an independent agency, must be assigned to do the criminal investigation.

The New York Times just ran a story about how the Pennsylvania State Police continues to fight against independent investigations when one of its troopers shoots and kills a civilian. The story highlights a trooper who has killed four civilians in separate incidents, with each shooting investigation done by the state police itself. Three completed investigations have cleared the trooper; the fourth homicide investigation is pending.

A national media outlet described the requirement of using an independent agency to investigate officer-involved shootings as one of the few areas of criminal justice reform where there’s a consensus. The reason for this kind of broad support seems self-evident — in a matter as important as an officer-involved shooting, it’s difficult to expect an agency to be impartial and unbiased in investigating itself. If we let Boeing lead the investigation into whether its planes were failing or the Houston Astros lead the investigation into whether it was cheating in the World Series, would we expect a full and fair investigation? Of course not, which is why independent agencies must investigate.

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If there is this overwhelming consensus and rather simple logic, could there be anybody in Pennsylvania politics still opposed to independent investigations of officer-involved shootings? In fact, erstwhile progressives Wolf, Kenney, and Krasner either actively oppose independent investigations of police shootings or have done nothing to implement this critical reform.

Let’s start with Wolf. The governor controls the Pennsylvania State Police, the law enforcement agency with jurisdiction throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. With a simple order, Wolf could instruct the state police to submit to independent investigations when a state trooper shoots a civilian. (A move that, ironically, has been endorsed by an advisory board he appointed.)

Instead, the state police is adamantly opposed to such independent investigations. In fact, the Pennsylvania State Police leadership was subject to a scathing grand jury report from Northampton County in 2017 for refusing to permit an independent investigation of a fatal officer-involved shooting. When asked for his opinion, Wolf stated that he had no problem with the state police investigating itself in officer-involved shootings. Perhaps not so surprisingly, the governor was entering an election year and was seeking the endorsement of the Pennsylvania State Troopers Association, which he ultimately received.

Wolf is a lame-duck governor now, term-limited from running for reelection. He is an avowed criminal justice reformer. It is not too late for him to do the right thing and order the state police to be subjected to independent investigations for officer-involved shootings. He has the opportunity to drag the Pennsylvania State Police kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

Meanwhile, in Philadelphia itself, neither the mayor nor the district attorney has made any attempt to require independent investigations. Right now, if a Philadelphia police officer shoots and kills a civilian, the Philadelphia Police Department performs the criminal investigation of its own officer. Despite the claims of Kenney and Krasner that they would bring swift justice in the cases of officer-involved shootings, these attempts by Philadelphia police officers to essentially investigate themselves in such cases continue to result in unnecessary delays and questionable findings.

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As with Wolf, it is not too late for Kenney and Krasner to do the right thing. Like the governor, the mayor is term-limited. He can make this decision now for the Philadelphia Police Department without concern for invoking the ire of the police union. Krasner has just been reelected and has an open disdain for the police union. Not only that but he’s also challenged use-of-force laws before, so he should have no hesitation finally to take this fundamental step for criminal justice reform. (And there’s ample precedent around the state: Pittsburgh’s district attorney requires independent investigations, as do the chief prosecutors in Montgomery, Bucks, and Delaware Counties.)

Perhaps more importantly, Pennsylvania has a looming governor’s election and Philadelphia has an upcoming mayoral race. Every candidate for these important posts should be required to make their position clear on the critical issue of requiring independent investigations for officer-involved shootings. No fence-sitting and no endorsement jockeying. Let the candidates, Democrats and Republicans alike, tell the voters exactly where they stand on this straightforward question.

Tom Hogan, a Republican who most recently served two terms as district attorney in Chester County, has also worked as a federal prosecutor and a local prosecutor. He is currently in private practice.