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.
Update: Oscar Grant and the Attorney General
Less than six weeks after On Our Watch published an episode examining the shooting and death of Oscar Grant, California's Attorney General Rob Bonta opened an external investigation into the 12-year-old case. In a wide-ranging interview with On Our Watch's Sukey Lewis, Bonta talks about California's systemic issues in policing, his efforts at addressing them and says the Oscar Grant case remains unresolved. We also look at new police reforms promising that cops who commit serious misconduct can be stripped of their badges.
Under Color of Law
One of the first police shootings to be captured on cell phone, millions saw Bay Area Rapid Transit police Officer Johannes Mehserle fire a single, fatal gunshot into Oscar Grant's back as the 22-year-old lay face down on the train station platform. Now, a lawsuit filed by NPR member station KQED has forced BART to comply with California's 2019 police transparency law, and release never-before-heard tapes from inside that investigation.
The Brady Rule
Fellow officers long suspected a veteran detective in Antioch, Calif., was leaking operational police secrets to a drug dealer. For years, the department didn't act on their concerns. Even after the detective was finally fired in 2017, his record remained secret. In episode six of On Our Watch we look at the incentives departments have to investigate dishonest cops and what the secrecy around police misconduct means for criminal defendants who are prosecuted on their testimony.
Neglect of Duty
An officer is repeatedly disciplined for not turning in his police reports on time. A mom goes to the police asking for help with her missing daughters. In the fifth episode of On Our Watch, we look at what can happen when police don't follow through on reports of victimization, and an accountability process that doesn't want to examine those failures.
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.