Two shooting incidents involving law enforcement officers in Kansas City are troubling reminders that protecting the public is dangerous work.
On Thursday, a woman was shot and killed by police in the Northland, apparently after wielding a decorative sword. Just a few minutes later, police officers shot and killed two men downtown in an unrelated incident.
Because their job is so dangerous, law enforcement officers are given enormous authority to use lethal force to protect themselves and the public. The right of police to use deadly force is essential.
But citizens must believe it is used appropriately and only as a last resort. That's why it was troubling last week when the Kansas City Police Department appeared to justify Thursday's shootings before a formal investigation could even begin.
"Both incidents unfolded protecting other citizens," Police Chief Rick Smith said.
The Northland exchange was "unavoidable," Capt. Lionel Colon told reporters, even though he did not actually see the incident unfold. "If officers are going to use their weapons, it's only in a situation when their lives or the lives of the public are in danger."
That's the policy. But that isn't the issue here. The question is: Was the use of deadly force justified in the two events? …
The problem is compounded in Kansas City because the process can be opaque. The names of the officers can be kept secret until the investigation ends. The department continues to resist widespread use of body cameras, which could provide important information. …
Police Board President Nathan Garrett sounded like he would be open to a review in a statement Friday. …
That's the proper approach. No one questions the courage of the police. Last Friday's killing of two Wyandotte County sheriff's deputies tragically underscored the bravery required of law enforcement officers.
At the same time, citizens must have confidence that when an officer fires a weapon on the streets, department procedures will be followed and a thorough investigation will be completed.
Speaking with reporters last week, Smith said officers involved in shootings are sometimes so traumatized by the incident they can't return to policing. But the families and friends of shooting victims are traumatized, too.
They — and all of us — must make sure justice is served.
— The Kansas City Star