You know the refrain. With each new scandal involving law enforcement, another horrific video of misconduct, evidence of assault, or act of fatal negligence, police officials tell the public: "We're investigating."
But what really happens inside those internal investigations that promise accountability?
For decades, the process for how police police themselves has been inconsistent, if not opaque. In some states, like California, these proceedings were completely hidden behind a wall of official secrecy. After a new police transparency law unsealed scores of internal affairs files, NPR and KQED reporters set out to examine these cases and the shadow world of police discipline. Hosted by KQED Criminal Justice reporter Sukey Lewis, On Our Watch brings listeners into the rooms where officers are questioned and witnesses are interrogated to find out who this system is really protecting. Is it the officers, or the public they've sworn to serve? New episodes on Thursdays.
A 16-year-old Black kid walks into a gas station in Stockton, Calif. to buy gummy worms for his little sister. When the teen gets in an argument with the clerk over a damaged dollar bill, a white officer in plainclothes decides to intervene — with force. In the fourth episode of On Our Watch, we trace the ripple effects of this incident over the next 10 years in a department trying to address racism and bias. But can the chief's efforts at truth and reconciliation work when the accountability process seems to ignore the truth?
After his son is shot and killed by a Richmond, Calif. police officer, a father looking for answers becomes a police transparency advocate. When the files about his son's death are released, they show an accountability system that seems to hang on one question: did the officer fear for their life? And in a rare interview, we hear from the officer who pulled the trigger.
One officer in Los Angeles used car inspections to hit on women. In the San Francisco Bay Area, another woman says an officer used police resources to harass and stalk her. The California Highway Patrol quietly fired both of them for sexual harassment, but never looked into whether their misconduct was criminal. The second episode of On Our Watch examines the system of accountability for officers who abuse their power for sex and exposes where that system falls short.
In Good Faith
In the small Northern California town of Rio Vista, a woman named Katheryn Jenks calls 911 for help. But after the police arrive, she ends up injured and inside a jail cell, facing serious charges. That same day, California Governor Jerry Brown signs a new law, State Senate Bill 1421, that opens up long hidden records of police misconduct, including files that might change the outcome of Jenks' case.
Introducing On Our Watch from NPR and KQED
What happens to police officers who use excessive force, tamper with evidence or sexually harass someone? In California, internal affairs investigations were kept secret from the public — until a recent transparency law unsealed thousands of files. On Our Watch is a limited-run podcast from NPR and KQED that brings you into the rooms where officers are interrogated and witnesses are questioned to find out who the system of police accountability really serves, and who it protects. New episodes drop weekly, starting Thursday, May 20.
Stories of redemption please.
I enjoy the deep dive that this show takes but I often come out of it down and mistrusting the police more than I already do. I would like to hear about stories of good officers or those that learned from their mistakes. Maybe even something about a bond formed with Black or Brown people. I think adding these types of stories would give your show more range and depth.
Some really good reporting here. Worth listening to.