Earlier this summer, Wade Page opened fire at a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek Wis. The first reporting officer, Lt. Brian Murphy, was shot 15 times before another officer brought Page down with a rifle shot to his mid-section. Footage from the officers’ dashboard cameras was released yesterday, allowing the curious to gain a more complete image of the grisly scene and the role the two officers played in ending the attack.
Sam Lenda, the second responder who ultimately brought Page’s shooting spree to an end (Page ended his own life after being hit by Lenda’s round), is beyond reproach in his use of deadly force. Unfortunately, most cases when an officer fires a gun are neither as publicized nor as clear cut as the shooting this past summer.
Eight years ago, 21-year-old Michael Bell was shot by police officers in front of his mother and sister. There were four police officers on the scene. Bell was unarmed; officers claimed that he reached for their weapons but there was an absence of fingerprints or any other corroborating evidence for this claim. Since this incident, Bell’s father has fought to change how police shootings are investigated in Wisconsin. The problem with investigating officers who fire their weapon is that the possibility of a bias tainting the investigation is sky high.
Wisconsin’s review process for incidents when an officer fires on a suspect are too lax in preserving the neutral viewpoint of an investigator. Just this past week, a Fitchburg officer shot and wounded a man who is now receiving treatment at an area hospital. His injuries have been reported not to be life threatening. The Fitchburg officer, and a Madison officer who was on the scene, have both been placed on paid administrative leave while the Department of Criminal Investigation investigates the particulars of the shooting. The DCI is a state-wide agency whose officers have jurisdiction across Wisconsin and investigate a wide variety of different crimes. This agency can at least claim neutrality in their investigation; however, DCI is not always called in for these cases.
This past August, a man was shot by police officers in Appleton, Wis. The officer was promptly put on paid leave and an investigation was carried out by the nearby Green Bay Police Department. The GBPD handled it as any other murder investigation by examining the evidence and surveying witnesses. Police departments in the state are in charge of their own judgements whenever an officer discharges his weapon. There are no imposed external reviews for the shootings. The district attorneys’, who are publicly elected officials, are a weak conduit for leading the investigations into deaths and injuries at the hands of police officers.
Because of Wisconsin’s rural demographic, the internal affairs offices that larger police departments can staff are impossible for all but the largest police departments in the state. Investigations into police shootings need to be taken more seriously before a half-recorded shooting becomes a PR disaster for Wisconsin’s finest.
David is a senior majoring in english literature and minoring in computer science.