It has been almost two months since a Los Angeles Police Department patrol car accelerated into Brooke Fortson during a protest over police violence. She still doesn't know the name of the officer who hit her or whether that person is still policing the city's streets. The officer did not stop after hitting Fortson and instead turned around, nearly hitting other demonstrators in the process, and sped off.
The LAPD almost surely knows who the officer is. The squad car's number is clearly visible in one of the multiple videos that captured the incident. But the department hasn't released any information: not the officer's name, or whether that person has been disciplined. The police say the incident is still under investigation. [...]
We set out to see whether the incidents caught on camera were investigated, whether officers were named and what information we could get about any investigations or discipline. We found a widespread lack of transparency that made it difficult to find out even the most basic details about whether and what sort of investigations were taking place. [...]
How long departments legally have to process complaints varies by jurisdiction. In at least 14 states, police officers have a "bills of rights" written into state law that provides special protections during investigations. There's a one-year statute of limitations in California on police discipline cases. In Florida, investigations of police misconduct must conclude in 180 days. [...] If a department can't close out a case in time, officers cannot be disciplined, suspended, demoted or dismissed.
"They have gotten these protections, especially in state laws, through sheer political power and lobbying effort, and that's a serious problem," said Samuel Walker, a retired professor of criminal justice who has researched the bills of rights.
ProPublica asked police departments about viral videos showing cops escalating violence against protesters. Most refused to name the officers or provide updates on their investigations.