A member of the House Judiciary Committee calls policies that allow officers involved in a shooting to wait before facing an investigator “very problematic.”
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries’ criticism of the policies comes in response to an in-depth Scripps News report in February.
Found in 19 of the nation’s 50 largest police departments, most policies provide officers two to three days before being questioned, but some allow up to 10 days.
“It absolutely makes no sense that an officer should be given an opportunity over a 48- or 72-hour period to review evidence, speak to witnesses and get his or her story together without being subjected to critical questioning about what happened,” Jeffries, D-N.Y., said.
The policies, which aren’t extended to civilians, apply to criminal or administrative investigations, and advocates say they allow time for officers’ memories to improve after traumatic events.
“We know from tragic incident after tragic incident across the country that there are some bad apples on the police force who wrongfully take the lives of unarmed American citizens,” Jeffries said. “When that happens, they should be held accountable under the same standards of everyone else.”
Jeffries is one of 44 co-sponsors of the Law Enforcement Trust and Integrity Act, a bill that calls for an array of police reforms, including ordering the Department of Justice to study wait periods.
If the study determines that the policies interfere with investigations of shootings, Jeffries says, then federal grants could be withheld from the departments where wait periods are in place.
“We certainly need to continue to respect our officers who sacrifice themselves to keep us safe,” Jeffries said, “but they also shouldn’t be above the law."
Many of the departments that have wait periods cite the research of Dr. William Lewinski, founder of the Force Science Institute in Minnesota.
Lewinski has studied officer-involved shootings and holds training seminars nationwide, concluding that delaying an officer’s interview “enhances an officer's ability to more accurately and completely respond to questions.”
But Lewinski’s conclusions aren’t shared by scores of other memory experts, such as Charles Morgan, an associate professor at Yale University who has studied soldiers' memories.
“There’s a very real danger in letting people wait or sleep on something,” he said. “It only increases the likelihood that they’ll be exposed to other information that can affect their memory.”
The Law Enforcement Trust and Integrity Act also calls for grants aimed at improving officer training, increased funding to combat police misconduct investigations and better data collection of traffic stops and uses of deadly force.
All of the bill’s 44 co-sponsors are Democrats, but lawmakers say they’re in talks with Republicans and hope they’ll also lend their support.
Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., the original sponsor of the bill and the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, declined to comment on the use of waiting periods.
The bill was referred to the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations in July and is awaiting further action.
If you have a tip about the impact of police wait periods, you can contact Ross Jones at Ross.Jones@scripps.com.