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Before and after

Oregon editors say

Portland police need to clarify rules governing officer-involved shootings

The Oregonian

Almost as troubling as the shooting death of Kendra James is the lack of medical attention she received after she was shot, when she was handcuffed and lying on the street.

Even those inclined to give Officer Scott McCollister the benefit of the doubt in the May 5 shooting have a tough time understanding how the dying 21-year-old could have been treated with such apparent indifference by McCollister and other officers.

When former Police Chief Mark Kroeker announced his punishment for McCollister last month ' a 5&

189; -month unpaid suspension, said to be one of the worst punishments ever meted out to a Portland officer, short of termination ' Kroeker made it clear this might not be the end of the story.

It shouldn't be.

— You may be disciplined for any post-shooting concerns as a separate matter, he wrote McCollister in a six-page disciplinary letter released to The Oregonian last Friday.

Two specific concerns he cited were the lack of medical care for James, and the fact that officers at the scene met and conversed in the days after the shooting, before they were interviewed by investigators.

It used to be that, after a police shooting, the freeze-frame moment that all eyes focused on was the moment of pulling the trigger. Was the shooting criminal? Grand juries and the bureau have resoundingly answered no, shooting after shooting.

What has changed forever, we hope, with the release of a scathing review of the bureau's shooting policies last month, is that now what leads up to a shooting and what follows it also will be in the spotlight. Before and after must be just as closely examined.

Officers will chafe at the community's slow-motion analysis of decisions they had to make in split seconds. But it is in laying down rules governing before and after that a community can exercise a modicum of control.

The community's preferences, as codified into bureau policies, can act as a friendly glove on the arm of an advancing officer, a whispered suggestion: Maybe you should retreat.

Yes, retreat. McCollister kept escalating, and that's why he was disciplined. The chief blamed McCollister because he didn't think through his tactics; didn't re-evaluate when his tactics failed; and just kept trying to pry the resisting James out of the car.

Of 30 Portland police shootings evaluated by a consultant, half happened too fast for much tactical maneuvering. In the other half, however, police had time to think through their responses more fully ' but failed to do so, the consultant concluded.

To be sure, police don't just press forward out of macho swagger or overconfidence. They advance out of pride and their own notion of finishing a job. To guard against that very tendency, the Philadelphia Police Department has gone so far as to explicitly direct officers that retreating or repositioning is not a sign of weakness or cowardice by an officer; it is often tactically superior.

It would have been tactically superior on the night James died. If nothing else, her death must mark a turning point.

Given leadership from new Police Chief Derrick Foxworth, the Portland Police Bureau's history now must divide into a before and after.