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VOL. 130 | NO. 136 | Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Carpenter: Police Internal Affairs Records Should Be Open

By Bill Dries

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When advocates of a beefed-up Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board for Memphis called for police internal affairs to open its records of misconduct investigations to the review board, it wasn’t a new idea.

It was among the recommendations included in an April report to Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. on open records and transparency in city government.

The ordinance that would have given the appointed review board subpoena power and the ability to get internal affairs records as investigations of misconduct allegations are underway was delayed by the Memphis City Council last week before it was due for a third and final reading and vote.

Before the council’s delay to its July 21 meeting, the ordinance was amended on the advice of council attorney Allan Wade to take out the subpoena power and sharing of internal affairs records during an investigation. The new version instead would require internal affairs to turn over records to the board once investigations are complete and states that police could not delay closing a case to prevent the release of records.

CARPENTER

Wharton commissioned the review of open records and transparency done by Plough Foundation executive director and former Shelby County Commissioner Mike Carpenter.

Among his recommendations, Carpenter advocated making police internal affairs investigations “fully public to instill public trust.”

“Unless, ultimately charged with an administrative or criminal violation, a cloud hangs over IA investigations when details are not made public,” Carpenter wrote in his April 30 memo to Wharton. “It breeds distrust and doubt regarding whether or not a cover up or conspiracy exists. While it may benefit the accused officer in the short term to be shielded from media scrutiny, the officer and the department suffer irreparable damage to their reputations over the long term.”

Carpenter also cited a best practices guide for police departments by the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

After the council delay, Carpenter said police officers should be held to a higher standard and that the information police get in their internal investigation should be released before internal affairs comes to its conclusion.

“I personally think they should be able to release it while the investigation is underway,” he said. “Right now you can get an arrest report for anybody that they arrest and it will tell you who they are and what they allegedly did. In a lot of cases you can’t even find that out on a police officer.”

“Right now you can get an arrest report for anybody that they arrest. ... In a lot of cases you can’t even find that out on a police officer.”

–Mike Carpenter
Plough Foundation

Delays in simply releasing the names of officers involved in incidents under internal investigation are common.

Carpenter said in addition to the higher standard for law enforcement officers, there is the atmosphere surrounding police-involved shootings and violent encounters nationwide that has sparked violent reactions and questions about police policy on the use of force.

“In the context of all of the alleged police brutality that we’ve seen across the country in recent months, I would think that the council and law enforcement would want to be as transparent as possible and show that they are taking a tough stand with officers who are involved in misconduct,” Carpenter said. “If the officer is exonerated, then there ought to be a big deal made of that.”

In his report, Carpenter also recommended that whenever possible the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation should not be involved in police investigations because of a state law that specifically exempts the state agency from the open records law, “meaning once the TBI assumes responsibility for the investigation, the media and the public can never fully know the details of a case.”

“To keep the record open, MPD should look to Internal Affairs, other law enforcement agencies with jurisdiction or consider a special prosecutor appointed by the District Attorney General to investigate,” Carpenter wrote. “Even if the investigative details are withheld for a period of time, they would still be ultimately available to the public, media and affected parties.”

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