By keeping police shooting reports quiet, Boise Police Accountability office fell short

Editorial from the Idaho Statesman

The city of Boise’s newly revamped Office of Police Accountability is not living up to its name.

Without announcement or public notification, the office has been quietly posting incident reports over the past three months, including a report into the shooting of Mohamud Hassan Mkoma.

Further, the reports themselves leave much to be desired.

The Idaho Statesman was able to identify the report by matching details from it to the unique circumstances involving Mkoma’s case.

Even more troubling is that Jesus Jara, the office’s director, answered questions about transparency by saying the vagueness and quiet release of the reports are by design and align with how the ordinance creating the office was written.

Jara acknowledged that the lack of identifying information in a report could make it difficult for the public to know which incident a report is referencing.

“If that’s the case, in my mind, we met our goal,” Jara told Idaho Statesman reporter Joni Auden Land. “We’re trying to make sure people don’t know.”

Jara also said it’s not a goal of his office to disseminate the reports and that he has no plans to announce the release of any investigation completed by the Office of Police Accountability, whose stated goal is to increase transparency and accountability in internal investigations of law enforcement.

“We don’t plan on trying to make this something of a news item,” Jara said.

That is unacceptable.

Fortunately, the city of Boise announced Thursday, after reporting by the Idaho Statesman, that the office will start issuing news releases when it completes an investigation, a reversal from its earlier position.

That’s good news.

Communicating with the public is vital to transparency. It’s also vital to public trust.

If the public believes that the Office of Police Accountability is trying to keep its reports quiet, how can the public have any trust in the results? The review of the Mkoma shooting is dated Dec. 27, but no public statement was made about it or about any of the recent reports — three at the end of December, one at the end of January and two at the end of February.

The Statesman was made aware of the completion of these six reports during Jara’s presentation before the Boise City Council on Tuesday.

Family and friends of Mkoma have been pressing the city of Boise to release information about the incident as well as body camera footage. While the Ada County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office has withheld the body camera footage for reason, the Office of Police Accountability should have and easily could have announced the release of its investigation.

Instead, the report was filed in December and sat on the city’s website for three months — unannounced to the public.

The report certainly isn’t easy to find on the city’s website.

The Office of Police Accountability page is not found under “Police Department,” as one might expect.

It also is not found under “Community Engagement.” It’s found under “Mayor’s Office,” which may not be a logical place to look for that office.

Further, without notification to the public, that means an interested party, such as family and friends, would need to check the site every day to see if a report has been posted.

Previously, the part-time director of the then-named Office of Police Oversight did her own community outreach. Boise Mayor Lauren McLean assured this editorial board in June that the Office of Community Engagement would handle such functions under the new Office of Police Accountability.

We would have expected, then, that someone from that office would have issued a press release to inform the public that a report had been completed and posted.

That never happened.

As it is, it appears that the Office of Police Accountability is not even posting its reports when they are filed. Rather, the reports appear to be posted at the end of each month.

After the city of Boise violated public records laws twice in the past few months, this is yet another troubling example of a lack of transparency from a mayor who ran and got elected on a platform of government transparency.

Aside from the lack of transparency, we are also troubled by the reports themselves.

Without names of officers involved, we are unable to determine whether an officer has been involved in other shootings or even in other disciplinary action. We don’t know how much experience they have or how much training they have — especially whether they’ve gone through critical incident training.

Jara said the ordinance creating the accountability office requires that no names or identifying information of anyone involved be included. If that’s the case, Boise City Council members need to make changes to the ordinance.

When changes to the office were proposed last year, this editorial board supported them.

Rather than reviewing a Boise Police Department internal affairs report and gathering further information as needed, we were told, the new model would put an investigator, requested by the Office of Police Accountability, at the site of a critical incident to conduct first-hand interviews and collect information independently right from the start.

Based on the Mkoma report, we’re not convinced that happened.

The report indicates that the Office of Police Accountability “participated” in the internal affairs interviews with the sergeant and officers involved, but it does not state whether the office asked its own questions or merely witnessed their interviews. The report does not state whether the office was able to interview officers independently.

We haven’t seen body camera footage of the incident yet, but according to the report, the officers in the Mkoma shooting acted heroically, perhaps saving the life of a 13-year-old child, and certainly saving the life of Mkoma after shooting him five times.

Officers put pressure on his wounds and performed CPR on Mkoma, who survived.

But our concern is more about transparency and being open with the public.

In our initial support for the new office, we had an important caveat.

“While we support the proposed changes, we want to make sure that the city doesn’t lose outreach to the community, particularly to minority communities,” we wrote in June. “It will be vital to maintain positive relationships with all segments of the population.”

Unfortunately, on several points, the revamped Office of Police Accountability is falling short.

Boise City Council members need to step in here and ensure the Office of Police Accountability is accountable to the residents.

Statesman editorials are the unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Idaho Statesman’s editorial board. Board members are opinion editor Scott McIntosh, opinion writer Bryan Clark, editor Chadd Cripe, newsroom editors Dana Oland and Jim Keyser and community members J. J. Saldaña and Christy Perry.

Editorial from the Idaho Statesman

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