Editorials

Police should release names in shootings

JOHN FITZHUGH/SUN HERALDBiloxi police and other agencies are investigating an officer-involved, fatal shooting on the Popp's Ferry Bridge in Biloxi on Thursday.
JOHN FITZHUGH/SUN HERALDBiloxi police and other agencies are investigating an officer-involved, fatal shooting on the Popp's Ferry Bridge in Biloxi on Thursday.

First, let us be crystal clear. We aren't suggesting police are at fault in recent shootings in South Mississippi.

However, we believe the public would be better served if the police released the names of the officers involved. That's exactly what would have happened if a civilian had fired the shot or shots that killed Wesley Sheppard on Thursday on Popp's Ferry Bridge in Biloxi.

Chief John Miller said the department has a policy against releasing names out of consideration for the officers and their families. He said officers are usually identified at the end of the investigation.

Biloxi police officers aren't the only ones who are not named. Gautier police officers have been involved in two shootings in five months, one of which left a man dead. We don't know the identities of officers involved in a shooting in October or the fatal shooting March 1. We don't know how many officers were involved.

In Gautier, it's also a matter of policy. The police there said the officers' names would be released had they been accused of wrongdoing. Matt Hoggatt, spokesman for the department, said they wouldn't release the name of a civilian involved in a justified shooting. That's not a good idea either.

Authorities release the names of people involved in fatal car crashes regardless of whether they are at fault. That's a good policy for fatal shootings.

We believe releasing as much information as possible, releasing any information that wouldn't jeopardize or interfere with the investigation, would build the public's trust in the police.

We aren't alone in this stance. Police Chief Magazine, which is published by the International Association of Police Chiefs, recommends waiting 48 hours before releasing the names. (That short delay is to allow the officers to protect their families if there are concerns about retaliation.)

Many police departments across the country release the officers' names as a matter of policy. It's a policy Mississippi Coast police departments should adopt.

The vast majority of police shootings nationwide are justified and we believe the timely release of information is crucial to the public understanding that the officers used lethal force as a last resort in a situation that required a split-second decision.

This editorial represents the views of the Sun Herald editorial board. Opinions of columnists, and cartoonists are their own.

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