New Act Requires Written Policy on Investigation of Officer-Involved Deaths

Author: Jennifer J. Gibson

February 18, 2016

During last year’s legislative session, a number of new police requirements were put in place. Among these are the provisions contained in the Police and Community Relations Improvement Act (“Act”) that require each law enforcement agency to have a written policy regarding the investigation of officer-involved deaths for any law enforcement officer employed by that agency. The Act is effective as of January 1 of this year.

The term “officer-involved death” applies both to on-duty law enforcement officers and to those acting within the scope of their employment as well as to off-duty officers performing law enforcement activities. It is broadly defined to include deaths resulting directly from an action or intentional omission of a law enforcement officer, including unreasonable delay involving someone in custody or intentional failure to get medical treatment when the need is apparent. The term also includes deaths resulting from motor vehicle accidents if they happen while the officer was engaged in law enforcement activity involving the individual’s vehicle in the process of apprehension or attempt to apprehend.

While law enforcement bodies are permitted to conduct their own investigations in the event of an officer-involved death, they also are required to provide for an outside investigation, and their own internal investigation may not interfere with that outside investigation. The outside investigation must include at least two outside investigators or use an entity or agency with at least two investigators. The act spells out the minimum training qualification standards the outside investigators must meet, which will be those that basically qualify them to serve as a Lead Homicide Investigator. In the event that the officer-involved death involves a motor vehicle accident, at least one of the investigators must meet additional standards as a Crash Reconstruction Specialist. The act contemplates, however, that the Crash Reconstruction Specialist might come from within the law enforcement agency that employs the officer being investigated although it is not clear if, in that event, there would still need to be at least two additional outside investigators.

The outside investigators are required to provide a report of their investigation to the State’s Attorney of the county where the event occurred. In the event that State’s Attorney (or a designated special prosecutor) concludes that there is no basis to prosecute or otherwise charge the involved officer, then the investigator is required to publicly release a report of the investigation.