Toledo Police Officer Benjamin Cousino is back on duty after an internal review of his fatal shooting of an unarmed suspect last Sept. 28, and a standard three-day paid leave. Police spokesman Sgt. Joe Heffernan told The Blade’s editorial page that Officer Cousino’s life was in danger when he shot Darrell James Parnell, 19, of Toledo. The police department’s firearms review board has yet to assess the shooting.
Mr. Parnell was killed with one shot to the chest during what police described as a violent struggle with Mr. Cousino, 24, who joined the force in November, 2011. Police said Mr. Parnell, after apparently breaking into a vehicle in the 1300 block of North Michigan Street, reached several times for Officer Cousino’s gun, and beat him on the head with a baton.
There’s no reason to believe that the conclusion of the internal review was not justified, or that Mr. Cousino violated any department policy or failed to meet the highest standards of his profession. Even so, the fatal shooting of an unarmed suspect, under any circumstances, can raise questions that undermine police-community relations.
That’s why cases in which police use deadly force are best handled by independent investigators from an outside agency, a policy Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson has advocated in his city.
Toledo Mayor Mike Bell and City Council members ought to push for the same policy change here. This sensible idea can only improve relations between police officers and the people they protect.
Too often, it takes a tragic, highly publicized event to spur change. In Cleveland, a high-speed police chase last Nov. 29 ended in gunfire that left two apparently unarmed people dead. Mr. Jackson, one of the nation’s most respected urban mayors, has asked the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division to review his city’s policy on police use of force and compare it with best practices across the nation.
Mr. Jackson and his administration have acted prudently. The key word in any investigation is “independent.”
Internal investigations have their place. They often can deliberate and recommend changes faster than reviews done by outside agencies. Still, the credibility of in-house investigations alone is, understandably, often suspect, equated with the fox guarding the henhouse.
Along with mandating independent reviews of fatal police shootings, Toledo officials ought to re-evaluate the city’s policies on the deadly use of force, ensuring they meet the highest industry standards of police forces nationwide.
Such a move should not be viewed as criticism of current policies — and certainly not of Toledo police officers, who risk their lives daily. It is, rather, a reasonable step to help make sure that fatal police shootings are rigorously examined, and that the department retains the community’s trust, respect, and cooperation.