Friday, October 8, 2004

The Justice Department should develop uniform standards for its agencies to report and review the legitimacy of shooting incidents involving their agents, a new report says.

The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General said shooting incident review boards involving four Justice Department agencies — the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the U.S. Marshals Service — were not consistent in determining whether a shooting was justified.

Its report said the different agencies can take from six months to 15 months to investigate shooting incidents, and make determinations of whether they were justified based on differing views on what constitutes the reasonable use of deadly force.

Inspector General Glenn A. Fine said that from fiscal 2000 through fiscal 2003, the four agencies reported 267 shooting incidents by their personnel during enforcement or other operations, including 105 that were described as “intentional discharges at suspects during enforcement operations.”

The report, released Wednesday, said an audit of 103 of those shootings found differences in the review process by each of the agencies, noting that the average length of time to complete administrative reviews ranged from 176 days at the ATF to 442 days at the DEA.

It also said only the FBI and the ATF met a requirement by all four agencies that a written report be submitted to senior managers within one day of a shooting incident, and that the FBI conducted its own criminal investigation of each shooting incident, while the DEA, ATF and the Marshals Service relied on state and local law enforcement agencies to conduct criminal investigations involving the Justice Department employees.

The report said that while all four agencies conducted their own administrative investigations of each shooting incident, their shooting incident review boards were not consistent in how they determined whether deadly force was used reasonably.

Mr. Fine said that in conducting assessments, shooting review boards at the FBI, DEA and ATF examined the reasonableness of an agent’s belief that a suspect posed an imminent threat at the moment deadly force was used. In contrast, he said, the Marshals Service review board considered the reasonableness of a deputy marshal’s actions as a whole, including the actions that created the necessity for use of deadly force.

As a result, he said, the boards can make different determinations about the reasonableness of a shooting in similar cases.

The report also said there were 14 reported shooting incidents that involved unintentional discharges during enforcement operations, 60 that were described as intentional discharges at animals, and 88 that were unintentional discharges during nonenforcement activities, such as training and weapons cleaning.

The Inspector General’s report made a series of recommendations to each agency regarding its shooting incident reviews, and said a working group should be created to consider developing uniform standards.

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