The Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office needs the public on its side when there has been an officer-involved shooting, and transparency will help do that.
Judging by reaction to an incident in Bluffton on Dec. 9, the public wants the “thin blue line” to have the upper hand against the bad guys. So do we.
A third party continues to investigate a shooting that took place after a traffic stop in an outlet mall parking lot. Authorities say the driver was shot after the officer was dragged by the vehicle when it was put in reverse.
Meanwhile, the Sheriff’s Office is reviewing the incident to see that its policies and procedures were followed. (A previous version of this editorial stated incorrectly that the policies themselves were under review.)
The public should have access to those policies, called “general orders,” but we were rebuffed by the Sheriff’s Office for three days in seeking them. And when it was finally released, a bunch of it had been redacted, or blacked out. You can’t do that.
The state Freedom of Information Act allows certain types of police records to be redacted, but that deals with records “compiled in the process of detecting and investigating crime.”
We did not ask for an investigative report on what happened that night. We asked for general written policies not tied to any specific incident, all of which carry their own set of mitigating circumstances.
Why the delayed and incomplete response? Other local police agencies quickly provided their policies.
The Sheriff’s Office response unnecessarily raises questions. In this era of heightened scrutiny on this issue nationwide, that is the last thing law enforcement needs.
The office also lost time in telling the public what was going on at the scene. Seventy-five minutes passed before the first public statement. In this era of instant communication, that is a lifetime.
The public should not expect law enforcement to immediately describe details, name people involved or draw conclusions.
But the public should expect an immediate social-media notification that there is a dangerous situation in a popular shopping center and to avoid the area. The public should expect a quick followup notification that the situation has been handled, that no one is in danger, a suspect is in custody, but still avoid the area.
This would help law enforcement keep the upper hand that we all want.