Police shot a man to death in Covington on June 18 and released details about the confrontation hours later. Information about the Wednesday shooting death of a suspect wanted by U.S. Marshals took a full day to reach the public.
Kentucky State Police officers are investigating both incidents, as they do with most shootings involving police in the state of Kentucky. So why does the time between official statements vary so much?
The short answer, according to former University of Cincinnati police chief Gene Ferrara, is that police need time to verify what they’ve found before they start sharing information with the public or press.
“There's just so much about the investigation that really should be guarded in order to maintain the veracity of the investigation,” Ferrara said.
Ferrara, who spent 50 years in law enforcement, said many things complicate basic fact-finding: The number of witnesses, officers and agencies involved; the evidence at the scene; and the physical area in which a shooting occurs.
More police departments means more complication and more internal bureaucracy. The involvement of federal agencies such as the U.S. Marshals Service increases the workload even more.
“The smaller the investigation to uncover everything is, the quicker it can be done,” Ferrara said.
And if facts don’t line up right away at the scene, police need time to undertake deeper investigations, seek more interviews and gain a clear idea about what happened before they arrived.
“The more the statements of witnesses agree, then the less I have to go out to others,” according to Ferrara.
He compares the post-shooting investigation to elephant-watching. Two people looking at opposite ends of an elephant might describe completely different animals — it’s investigators’ job to take these disparate facts and figure out how they fit together.
Sometimes, seeing the whole elephant is easy. Sometimes it’s not.
Ferrara said disparities in the amount of time police take to release a statement about a shooting are not innately reason for concern.