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A good Friday, but it could be better

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‘F’ as in Frank by John Fannin

This isn't the column I want to write on Good Friday, but it's the column I feel I have to write.

It's been more than three weeks since Ramon Ayala was shot and killed by a Sunnyside police officer after he reportedly fired gunshots into the air and allegedly pointed the weapon at police.

As has been documented, it's the third officer-involved shooting in Sunnyside in the past two years - two of them fatal.

This column isn't about questioning whether or not the officers should have fired on those three occasions - evidence on at least the previous two shootings seem to indicate lethal force was necessary.

No, this is about the shooting's aftermath.

In May 2011, the Sunnyside Police waited one week to release the identity of the four officers who shot and killed Jose Carlos Campuzano in downtown Sunnyside after he reportedly first fired at officers.

Last April, a Sunnyside officer fired at Marcus Anthony Torres after he allegedly pointed a gun at police and fled. Torres was unhurt and the police gunfire damaged a home in the area.

Nearly a year later, we still don't know the identity of that officer or the dollar value of damage to the house hit by bullets.

Again, it's been three weeks since a Sunnyside police officer shot and killed Ayala and we don't know the officer's name.

It's not that I as a reporter or we as a newspaper have a prurient interest in printing the names of officers involved in shootings.

Rather, the drive for info is in the public's best interest. It has a right to know which officer was involved.

"The best policy for all parties involved in a shooting is a 48-hour release policy. Neither the officer's name nor the name of the individual shot should be released for 48 hours. This gives involved officers time to notify their families and arrange for temporary, secure accommodations if they fear threats or retaliation may follow. The 48-hour release policy also provides the department sufficient time to properly notify the family of the individual who was shot."

Those aren't my words but those of Drew J. Tracy in his research for The Police Chief magazine. In his October 2010 article titled, "Handling Officer-Involved Shootings," Tracy continues, "A professional, timely media release issued by the head of the agency sends the message that this is a serious incident that will be handled with expertise and professionalism."

Tracy wrote that piece not as a reporter or journalist or blogger, but as the assistant chief, investigative services bureau for the Montgomery County, Maryland, Police Department.

His words didn't appear in USA Today or CNN, but in The Police Chief, a monthly published by the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

The 48-hour "best policy" wasn't followed in the Ayala shooting. His identity was revealed well before that time frame and as for the officer's identity, well we're long past 48 hours.

With three shootings in less than two years, I think it would also be good for the public to know the Sunnyside Police Department's policies on handling the aftermath of officer-involved shootings. Further, it would be good to know how - or if - the department has revised workloads since the MGT report released last year.

The report noted, for example, that one of the officers involved in the fatal 2011 shooting handled 1,021 cases the previous year - more than the city's four detectives combined.

I know this column won't be popular with many, but after reading Tracy's remarks I feel even more compelled than ever to make sure the public is kept in the loop on what's happening.

It's a good Friday, but it could be better. Here's hoping future ones will be.

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