The Special Investigations Unit that formed in January is getting more work than anyone expected -- or wanted.
The unit was created to respond to officer-involved shootings, which are normally rare events in the Tri-Cities.
So far this year, the team completed one investigation into a fatal shooting in Richland and is reviewing a second incident that wounded a burglary suspect in Pasco.
In a better world, we wouldn't need the SIU. But in the real world, where police are sometimes required to use deadly force, we're glad this special unit exists.
We continue to believe, however, that it could be strengthened by including the public in the process.
That's not a slam on the SIU's performance, which from all appearances has been exemplary.
But it's not enough for the investigation to be fair and thorough. Public confidence in the process is also crucial. We think some civilian participation would help silence any charges of police bias.
We're not sure what form public oversight might take, but models exist in the civilian review boards that serve other communities.
It's a call we made when the unit was first formed. At the time, we expressed our confidence in the Mid-Columbia team -- which combines top investigators from the Benton and Franklin County sheriff's departments as well as police from Pasco, Richland, Kennewick, West Richland and Prosser.
We said the team would bring a depth and breadth of knowledge and experience beyond what any single department could provide.
Members got their first test in June, Richland police shot and killed 27-year-old James Schultz when they responded to reports of a suspicious car in a residential neighborhood near Cottonwood and Thayer drives.
Members of the SIU and the Washington State Patrol Crime Scene Response Team spent hundreds of hours investigating the shooting. Their exhaustive report ran more than 2,000 pages.
Benton County Prosecutor Andy Miller said it was "as good as any investigation" he's seen in the 25 years he's held office.
The investigation found that Schultz shot first at police, and the four officers involved in the shooting were justified in returning fire.
Questions raised about the use of excess force faded in the wake of the investigation's release. Silence from critics may be a vote of confidence in the process.
Even so, some oversight from a source with no ties to law enforcement could only increase the public's trust.
Communication plays another key role in maintaining good public relations, especially after officers use deadly force.
We thought Richland police officials were slower than they needed to be in releasing information about the shooting.
We can't level the same criticism at their Pasco counterparts.
Earlier this month, the SIU was assigned its second case when Pasco Officer Chad Pettijohn shot and wounded Ezequiel Chavez.
The 19-year-old burglary suspect is accused of shooting at Pettijohn before the officer returned fire. Chavez was charged with assault on Monday.
The investigation and prosecution will take time, but after an initial delay in releasing some key details, the public has been kept informed every step of the way.
Judging from police reports, the community can be grateful no one other than the suspect was injured. With several nearby schools in session at the time, it doesn't take much imagination to think of far worse alternatives than a wounded suspect.
The Pasco incident proves the need for releasing as much information as possible in any major police action.
As a precaution, four nearby schools -- Pasco High, Emerson and Longfellow elementary schools, and Captain Gray Early Learning Center -- were locked down for about 45 minutes while police searched the area.
Within moments, some parents received text messages from their children's cell phones, informing them of the lockdown.
If that wasn't enough cause for concern, rumors passed onto some anxious parents indicated that a student had been involved in a shooting.
Technology provides the means to almost instantly spread falsehoods, and police can't be expected to compete.
But the quicker that accurate information is made available, the less damage rumors can cause.