- The Washington Times - Monday, December 23, 2002

Public furor over accusations of brutality by Prince George's County police was stoked two years ago, when an undercover officer followed, shot and killed an unarmed college student.
County residents demanded action and got it: The Justice Department opened a sweeping civil rights investigation of the county force in November 2000.
But federal investigators have since said little about their probe, now entering its third year.
"They need to complete the job that they started," said Redmond Barnes, head of a community group advocating police reform. "I don't think the department has changed enough so we can say the federal government doesn't need to look at this anymore."
Lawyers and investigators from the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division are conducting an exhaustive search, sifting through police records, reviewing deaths in custody and police shootings, and taking testimony from county residents who say police have mistreated them.
Justice Department spokeswoman Casey Stavropoulos would confirm only that the investigation is ongoing, and could not say what progress has been made or if an agreement with the county is expected soon.
The federal government opened an investigation of the county's canine division in 1999 after charges that officers improperly set police dogs on suspects.
The probe was expanded to the entire police force in October 2000 after Howard University student Prince Jones was shot five times in the back by a county officer in an apparent case of mistaken identity. The officer had tailed Mr. Jones for miles into Northern Virginia.
Mr. Jones' death came at the end of a decade when the county force had one of the highest shooting rates among large police departments nationwide.
Investigators were tasked with finding suspected cases of brutality or racial discrimination by county officers to see if there was a pattern of misconduct.
County leaders say much of what is under investigation has been remedied. The department implemented new training for officers on lethal force and equipment such as guns that shoot pepper spray instead of bullets to subdue suspects. Police dogs were retrained to confront and bark rather than first bite and hold on to the suspect.
Many of the new policies were prompted by an extensive review of the police department completed last year by county officials and community leaders. A civilian panel was given power to review misconduct claims, and County Executive Wayne K. Curry claimed accountability would come to the department.
The changes seemed to have had an effect: Police-involved shootings reached a 15-year low this year, with just one through the end of November.
Questions resurfaced this month about how successful those efforts have been. Police shot four suspects in three days, dramatically increasing the number of police shootings this year to five. One involved a driver shot by police who mistakenly thought his car was stolen. Another involved an officer who had shot three other suspects during his 14-year tenure on the force.
Federal authorities have not discussed the investigation with newly elected County Executive Jack Johnson, said Michael Herman, Mr. Johnson's chief of staff. Mr. Herman said the county executive is unaware of the progress of the probe.
The Justice Department regularly investigates police for claims of brutality, often reaching an agreement with the departments on a slate of changes and reforms. Sometimes, however, change is forced on an unwilling local force through court action.
These probes vary in length. The Justice Department reached an agreement with Cincinnati in April, a year after a racially tinged police shooting spurred an investigation. But it took more than two years to investigate five years' worth of excessive force complaints in the District before a settlement was forged in 2001 between the city and federal government.
The Prince George's investigation is longer than most, said Richard Jerome, a former Justice Department lawyer who oversaw police accountability efforts and now runs a consulting firm that monitors federal settlements with police departments.
Mr. Jerome said two factors play large roles in determining how long a probe lasts the cooperation of the police force and changes a department makes while the investigation is ongoing.
Prince George's has seen several changes in the department and political landscape since the investigation began.
Former Police Chief John S. Farrell, who many felt resisted change, was replaced with Gerald Wilson. Mr. Johnson, the former state's attorney, ran this fall on a platform of police reform. One of his first steps was to appoint former New York Police Commissioner Patrick Murphy to conduct a broad review of the department.
The Justice Department may be giving time for those changes, prompted in part by the federal investigation, to take effect, Mr. Jerome said.
"Yes it's been long, but that is in part because it has been an evolving situation in Prince George's," Mr. Jerome said.

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