Dorner Manhunt, Transparency and the Ethics of Law Enforcement

In the 10-day manhunt for ex-Los Angeles Police Department officer Christopher Dorner, reporters and the general public hoped for more clues in a deadly rampage involving former LAPD colleagues and others. The San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department ended its press conference on Wednesday with dozens of unanswered questions.

How did the final hideout cabin burn?

How was the suspect able to hide in a condo 20 yards away from the sheriff’s mountain command post?

In the Internet age, the lines between law enforcement, public information and media begin to blur. A report in the Christian Science Monitor raises the question: “Is it fair to expect all these issues to be addressed?”

As the media aims to inform the public with accurate and reliable information, experts in the ethics of law enforcement want to present transparency but also have a duty to protect their investigation. LAPD Chief Charlie said, “They cannot put out information when they have barely begun their own investigation into what actually happened at a crime scene,” he says. “This is an active, on-going investigation into many crime scenes by multiple jurisdictions…”

On the subject of media-strong messages, former U.S. Attorney from Miami, Kendall Coffey said, “Some messages may never reach the court of law but still register big time with public opinion.”
Although some information may never make it to the jury, “…they can be fed routinely to the press because some themes that never appear in trial transcripts will splash hugely in newsprint transcript.”

The public is focused on its demands for transparency and accountability, says Donald Tibbs, professor at the Earle Mack School of Law at Drexel University in Philadelphia. He says the police, “… have civil liability to think about. Anything they say could be used in a civil lawsuit that might be brought by the Dorner family, for instance.”

In the report, former Los Angeles deputy sheriff and FBI agent Frank Scafidi says the LAPD is in an unfortunate position of having to defend against charges of a “coverup” in its handling of the investigation and Dorner’s termination. He added, “…that’s why it is extremely important for officials to get as much detailed information as possible out as soon as possible before the conspiracies have time to wind up.”

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