Fresno’s police auditor didn’t mince words in his quarterly review of the city’s police department, calling for more urgency in the investigation into the police shooting of Dylan Noble.
Auditor Richard Rasmussen said that police shootings are “the most important death-related cases, as they involve a public employee taking the life of a citizen.” He advised the police department to contact the Fresno County District Attorney and Coroner’s Office to ensure these cases “get moved to the top of their work pile.”
Body camera footage of the unarmed 19-year-old’s death on June 25 spread rapidly across the country, contributing to the growing outcry against perceived police violence. This publicity, Rasmussen added, is even more reason to expedite this investigation.
“In this case, with the facts such as they are, waiting for toxicology or some other test is not nearly as important as resolving a case wherein two officers acted quickly and decisively, taking a citizen’s life,” he said. “Test results that may lend insight into the actions of the suspect are not nearly as important as informing the public that FPD officers acted properly.”
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However, Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer contends the investigation is already being rushed. He said that all Fresno police shooting investigations are now completed within six months, as the auditor previously recommended. Because of the heightened public interest in the Noble case, Dyer predicts the criminal investigation, which the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office is leading, will wrap up by the end of August. That would be two months after the shooting.
“I’ve talked to both the district attorney and the sheriff, and all three of us agree that officer-involved shootings are a very high priority,” Dyer said. “But I don’t agree that they are our top priority.”
“I think a 20-month-old killed in our city is the highest priority,” Dyer added, referring to the murder of Rashad Halford Jr., an infant killed in front of his parents on June 22.
Dyer said that investigators sometimes have to sacrifice a little bit of time to ensure accurate findings. He believes the department’s internal affairs investigation will be finished by the end of September. Rasmussen plans to audit this investigation once it is completed. The FBI is also looking into Noble’s death.
Body camera footage will likely play a major role in the Noble investigation. Both Rasmussen and Dyer agree this technology is helpful to both officers and the public.
However, Rasmussen scolded Fresno police for not using their body cameras properly.
He referred to a specific incident in which three gang enforcement officers stopped a vehicle. One activated his body camera, one had a camera but never turned it on and the third did not have one.
400The number of body cameras currently in use by the Fresno Police Department.
Department policy requires all officers to activate their body cameras at the beginning of traffic stops, arrests, pursuits and interviews – unless doing so would put them in danger. Rasmussen said the second officer violated this policy, while the third probably should have been outfitted with a camera, as gang members are not only more violent but also more likely to claim officer misconduct.
Dyer believes this case was an isolated incident. There’s been a learning curve for officers using this technology, Dyer said, but most of the 400 officers currently outfitted with cameras are using them correctly.
Dyer said that internal affairs investigations into alleged officer misconduct are down 50 percent in the last year. He believes body cameras, as well as additional training, are a big reason why.
The solution to Rasmussen’s claim seems obvious: Keep the cameras rolling at all times.
This isn’t possible, Dyer said, for a number of legal reasons. Patients in hospitals and mental health facilities have an expectation of privacy that would be violated by the cameras. So do officers using the bathroom. Children contacted during sexual assault crimes must be protected, as must anonymous citizens who report crimes despite fear for their safety.
The department will soon add another 50 body cameras to the 400 already in the mix, Dyer said. After that, another order of 50-75 will be placed. Although he agrees with Rasmussen’s claim that multiple officers using their cameras on the same incident can help paint a clearer picture later on, cost is an issue.
“The cameras cost between $1,500 and $1,600 per officer per year,” Dyer said. Most of this goes toward cloud storage for the large amount of data collected. “We don’t have enough to cover everyone, but we’re getting there.”