The search for former Los Angeles Police Department officer Christopher Dorner has ended in a blaze of gunfire and flames, but that seeming finale does not end the investigation. Rather, many aspects of the pursuit for justice now enter new phases.
How long will it take to confirm that Dorner is dead?
The charred remains in the Big Bear Lake, Calif., cabin where Tuesday's standoff ended will have to be analyzed for DNA information, and that will take time – days or perhaps weeks, says Capt. Frank Gonzales of the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department Scientific Investigation Division.
He notes that before his office can receive material to analyze, the coroner’s office must complete the autopsy, and the timing for that is unclear. And even once that is complete (contrary to the impression left by "CSI") “DNA and other types of forensic evidence does not get analyzed overnight,” he says.
In addition to material from the remains, evidence collected at the multiple crime scenes will have to be analyzed. Captain Gonzales notes that he has as many as a half dozen crime scene investigation staff at the various sites collecting evidence.
Who is conducting investigations and why?
Law enforcement in each of the jurisdictions where Dorner is believed to have committed crimes will be investigating everything from shootings to officer threats, carjackings, kidnappings, and robberies. While it might seem counterintuitive to continue investigations when the suspect may be deceased, there are many unanswered questions, ranging from who may have aided or abetted Dorner to how and when he traveled between the various cities.
“We have assault with a deadly weapon on one of our officers,” says LAPD Cmdr. Andrew Smith, adding that there were threats on some 50 police officers and their families still outstanding. Protection is still being extended in some cases, he points out, noting “there is still very much the possibility of copycat crimes, and everyone is very much still on alert even if the tactical alert is officially over.”
Will police tactics and behavior during the manhunt be investigated?
Each department will conduct its own investigation of issues such as use of force by a police officer. This means that every time a police officer discharges a weapon, the department must make a decision about the extent to which the incident will be evaluated. In cases where people have died, each shooting will be carefully evaluated for adherence to department policies.
For instance, there have been questions – and conflicting answers – about how the cabin in the final shootout caught fire. Reporters listening to police scanners have reported overhearing law-enforcement personnel saying they intended to burn the house down. But San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon said at a Wednesday afternoon press conference that it was not intentional.
Each jurisdiction has its own review policy, notes Commander Smith. Following a series of scandals in the 1990s, the LAPD was placed under federal oversight for eight years. “As a result, our policies on use of force by officers are some of the strictest in the nation,” he adds.
This is of particular interest to observers who wonder if accusations leveled by Dorner against the LAPD – of police abuse and coverup – suggest the department is backsliding on ethics and transparency.
“They are going to be watched very closely as they conduct these investigations,” says George Hill, a former Army Ranger and an expert on firearms and close-quarters combat.
For example, early in the manhunt, six LAPD officers shot up a truck that resembled Dorner’s. A grandmother and her teenage granddaughter, who were on a paper route, were inside and both were wounded. The officers have been put on leave, but “this is not a good sign either for the professionalism or training of LAPD officers,” Mr. Hill says.
What about the LAPD reopening its investigation into Dorner's firing?
In his manifesto, Dorner said he was fired by the LAPD in 2008 because he betrayed the "blue wall of silence" – acting as a whistleblower against a fellow cop, whom he accused of kicking a defenseless suspect. LAPD chief Charlie Beck has announced he will turn the case over to the inspector general, an independent office that reports directly to the police commission – which is a five-member civilian board that oversees the LAPD policies and functions.
Chief Beck wrote on the LAPD website that the investigation was not being done to appease a suspected murderer, but rather to reassure the community about police behavior.
“This is a matter of trust for communities and police not just in this country but around the world,” says Tod Burke, a professor of criminal justice at Radford University in Virginia. He notes that this case has lit up the Internet around the globe and is being followed closely – both by supporters and critics of law enforcement. “They want to get it right, and it will be a learning experience for all sides,” he adds.