It has been more than 72 hours since DaShawn Cole was killed by
Pawtucket police, yet very basic information about this tragic incident remains
undisclosed. The names of the officers, how many shots were fired, the threat
faced by the police at the time, even whether the victim fired any shots
himself -- all of this remains unknown. We assume – we hope – that this and
related information will be released shortly, but the contrast between the
belated sharing of information by police during officer-involved shootings and
the much more free-flowing disclosure of information when serious
civilian-upon-civilian crimes occur remains striking and totally unacceptable.
In fact, similar secrecy disconcertingly shrouded the last fatal police
shooting in Pawtucket in 2016.
Friday’s deadly shooting warrants consideration for another
important reason. According to published accounts, there have been 14 incidents
of deadly police shootings in Rhode Island since 2006. Of those 14 deaths,
seven of them – one-half – have been at the hands of one police department:
Pawtucket. This is a truly alarming figure. By contrast,
Providence, which has a population more than two times as large as Pawtucket
and a higher crime rate overall, has had two fatal shootings by police in the
same time period.
While this figure is disturbing, we want to emphasize that we
make no judgement on the actions police took on Friday. Indeed, we don’t have
enough information for that. However, it cannot be denied that Pawtucket police
are far more likely to use deadly force than other police departments.
The ACLU fully recognizes the dangers police face daily, and
that every police shooting must be individually evaluated on its own merits and
in recognition of the split-second decisions that officers must often make.
However, when one department protecting a city whose population makes up about
7% of the state’s population is nonetheless responsible for half of the fatal
police shootings in the past decade, both internal and external investigations
of this troubling fact are clearly warranted.
The ACLU calls on the Attorney General and the Police Chief to
conduct a thorough review of the Pawtucket Police Department’s training and
practices to determine the causes behind this disconcerting track record. Just
as importantly, we call on all police departments to be more forthcoming with
basic information about police shootings when they occur, rather than shrouding
them in secrecy for lengthy periods of time. The formulaic silence by law
enforcement that routinely follows these shootings promotes a double standard
that can only breed mistrust and suspicion.