In early November, an unarmed Laramie man with a history of mental illness was shot and killed by an Albany County sheriff’s deputy — a deputy who’d fatally shot someone twice before and was fired from his previous job after being accused of beating a man.
Understandably, Laramie residents are outraged. They’re demanding answers — about the shooting itself and the decision to hire a deputy with such as past.
A group of residents formed a group aimed at seeking openness and transparency during the investigation into the shooting. And the Wyoming branch of the ACLU is calling for the department to release footage of the shooting, which up to this point, has only been shared with media outlets but not with the general public.
Albany County officials should follow the recent example of the Casper Police Department and share information. The past year has shown the benefits of such transparency.
There have been three police shootings in Casper so far this year. After each one, dashboard or body cam footage has been released to the public. And Police Chief Keith McPheeters has held press conferences to answer questions about the shootings.
The approach taken by the Casper Police Department is a new one for Wyoming law enforcement. In the past, agencies have tended to clam up after shootings, sometimes avoiding releasing even basic information like the gender or age of the person who had been killed. In the absence of good information, rumors sprout up and infest the community. Mistrust between law enforcement and the community flourishes.
Local communities deserve to be able to trust the officers tasked with keeping the peace. The officers are given incredible powers – the right to deprive a person of his liberty and even his life. With that power comes greater responsibility — and scrutiny. Authorities must be transparent about this and other police shootings so that the community can rest assured that the right decisions were and are made.
The circumstances of the Laramie shooting — and the history of the deputy involved — deserve scrutiny. It’s up to the state investigators to determine if reasonable force was used or not. But in the absence of good information, the public will be left to fill in the blanks on their own — and rarely will that bode well for general trust within the community.
County officials should take a page from the CPD’s book and get in front of these things before they spiral out of control. Openness and transparency bring with them trust and understanding. And regardless of whether the deputy was justified or not, authorities in Albany County will be better off in the long run.