The tragic, frustrating death of Andrew Finch will remain with Wichitans for some time. No decision on filing charges against the Wichita police officer who shot him, and no decision on the man charged with involuntary manslaughter associated with fake calls to police, will let us forget about a senseless death.
The district attorney’s decision not to file criminal charges against the officer who fired the only shot in the Dec. 28 incident is already receiving widespread criticism, and who’s to say the criticism isn’t valid? Believing an officer shouldn’t shoot someone unless he can identify with certainty that the suspect has a weapon and is threatening others is a completely logical opinion — though Kansas law disagrees.
Now comes an absolutely vital point in the investigation, one that will determine for many the confidence Wichitans have in their police force: The police internal investigation needs to be the most exhaustive, comprehensive effort the department has seen, and the city’s new Citizens Review Board should scrutinize it in public.
Many aspects of the swatting call and shooting death should receive scrutiny. Unlike District Attorney Marc Bennett’s view that hindsight couldn’t be used to determine if the officer was charged, it’s certainly in play during an internal investigation.
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Most importantly, did the officer follow police procedure in firing a shot from 122 feet when he thought five officers or sheriff’s deputies were being threatened? Should the officers 47 feet away, with weapons aimed at Finch and a better view of his hands, had the opportunity to possibly fire first?
Thursday’s release of body camera footage shows inconsistencies with how Wichita officers operate the cameras. Two officers closest to Finch didn’t have their cameras on at the moment of the gunshot. One camera was turned on as Finch slumped from being shot. The other was turned off in the moments before Finch came out of the house.
Having either camera or both cameras recording before the shot would likely have added a critical view of Finch’s hands.
The varying instructions to Finch once he exited is home should also be studied. Loud commands are likely to be fine for suspects who understand why police are there, but citizens who have no reason to believe they’re a suspect may be easily confused by loud and different instructions coming from multiple directions.
The department’s handling of public information in the days after the shooting was inconsistent, creating errors in the timeline. That’s to be expected given such an unusual case, but determining what could have been done better will help police in future cases.
Chief Gordon Ramsay and his department have from the start extended sympathy to the Finch family. An awful hoax and an officer’s split-second decision led to an innocent 28-year-old life being taken.
Police on Thursday reiterated in a statement, “The WPD recognizes the concern this tragedy has caused and is committed to do everything it can to prevent an incident like this from occurring again.”
That should mean a complete internal investigation with significant input and oversight from the newly created Citizens Review Board. Wichitans will be looking for signs that their police department will improve itself after a needless death.