It’s not often we give the city’s police department kudos for its handling of what we deem should be public information, but it seems a change is in the air.
Regular readers know we have routinely taken the department’s leadership — and City Hall by extension — to task for shrouding its operations in unnecessary secrecy. Unfortunately, since state law gives local law enforcement agencies plenty of leeway to shield even the most basic facts about crimes and investigations, that’s about all we can do from this end.
Our stance springs from a firm belief that the press — whether a traditional newspaper, TV station or website — serves as a government watchdog. This role is severely hampered when officials are allowed to wave off requests for information without explanation.
More so, we strongly believe the public has a right to know what’s happening in their neighborhoods, whether it’s good news or bad.
For those reasons, we are happy to report witnessing what must be considered a welcome — and long overdue — step in the right direction this week: the release of the department’s internal review of the shooting death of Taft Sellers.
The 30-year-old was killed during an armed standoff with police officers in February. At the time, authorities kept mum on many of the details, including seemingly innocuous facts like the number of officers involved, shots fired, and the make and model of Sellers’ weapon.
We believed then, as now, that opting to stay quiet damaged the department’s credibility in the community and robbed residents of much-needed context.
You can’t change the past, but you can certainly learn from it. The police department was not required to release its review of the fatal standoff, yet officials chose to share the findings with the public. We cannot help but applaud that decision.
No, it probably didn’t require eight months to conclude that the department’s officers need to improve their accuracy (of the 37 shots fired in a three-second span, just five struck Sellers). But the information released — along with the facts previously publicized by the commonwealth’s attorney’s office — gives residents a chance to look over the data and come away with an informed opinion.
More importantly, from our perspective, it sets a precedent. Future law enforcement officials will be judged — either for their transparency or reticence — in comparison.
There is, of course, always room for improvement. This is just a small step, but an important one. For the moment, though, we should pause to thank our local law enforcement for being willing to take it.