22:17 GMT24 February 2020
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    Police who shoot suspects in South Carolina have been granted an extra layer of protection: their names will not be released unless they are charged with criminal offenses. The change of policy was recently ordained by 13th Circuit Solicitor Walk Wilkins.

    After four Greenville County Sheriff's Deputies fatally shot 35-year-old Jermaine Massey on March 19, 2018 the officers were placed on administrative leave until the conclusion of the investigation. Unless their actions result in criminal charges, they will remain unnamed.

    "While a case is under review and no charges are made, we're not going to identify a particular officer who had just had to use his service weapon," Wilkins told Greenville News. "We're not going to subject him to scrutiny by the public until a case has been vetted and completed." 

    Wilkin's policy makes exceptions for officers whose identities are already exposed, for example, by a bystander's video of their shooting.

    It is not clear whether under these guidelines the officer who fatally shot Walter Scott in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015, would have been shielded until he was indicted. Currently, Michael Slager faces 20 years in prison for shooting Scott from behind and lying about it, saying that it was done in self-defense.

    Law enforcement and prosecutors in the city of Charleston do not plan to implement the new, state-wide policy, however. 

    Not releasing an officer's name who has fatally shot somebody is "anti-democratic," Seth Stoughton, a former law enforcement officer who teaches at University of South Carolina School of Law, told Greenville News, adding that officers are technically public servants.

    Releasing their identity can also help illuminate an officer's history. And a name doesn't necessarily equal transparency. The official disciplinary record of Daniel Pantaleo, the NYPD officer who killed Eric Garner, only came to light after it was leaked by an employee of the city's Civilian Complaint Review Board and showed a pattern of problematic behavior. The officer had four allegations substantiated against him, but also 14 individual allegations and seven disciplinary complaints.

    Numerous studies have shown that so-called "problem officers" account for an outsized portion of excessive force and deadly force incidents.

    Geoffrey Alpert, an expert on police use of force and professor of criminal justice at the University of South Carolina. says that the majority of police shooting policies he has studied include a mandate for the release of the officers' names within 72 hours of the shooting. 

    "Most of the policies I'm familiar with releases the names in a very short period of time," Alpert told Greenville News.

    In addition, according to a report by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, releasing the names of the officers involved in a violent incident within two days improves public trust.


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