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When an officer fatally shoots a civilian, there's a standard list of procedures to go through.

Authorities create a perimeter. Detectives gather evidence. Officers submit to internal questioning. Investigators conduct interviews, inform family members. The district attorney general takes note, maybe starts to build a case.

In Hamilton County, local agencies lead these investigations, with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation occasionally offering a hand.

But new legislation could alter that process as early as next year.

Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, and Rep. G.A. Hardaway, D-Memphis, are drafting a bill to designate the TBI as the lead investigator in any fatal officer-involved shooting in the state.

some text Neal Pinkston

The bill, Kelsey said Friday, increases family benefits for officers killed in the line of duty, puts the TBI in charge of all officer-involved shootings and lays out guidelines for what information becomes public if there's no criminal prosecution.

Following on the heels of a similar agreement inked last week between the TBI and Shelby County authorities, the bill should be presented Jan. 12, 2016, Kelsey said.

Kelsey said Friday some people believe local agencies are biased when they conduct their own officer-involved shooting investigations — hence the idea of putting the TBI, an independent entity, in charge.

"We know that police departments investigate their own officers all the time," he said, "but with such serious issues at stake, the public needs to be 100 percent confident that an independent body is handling these cases."

Chattanooga officials, though, said the bill could tangle the investigation process, backlog the TBI's resources and muddle transparency. This year has seen two fatal officer-involved shootings in Hamilton County to date, according to Times Free Press records.

"What appears to be the concern is the integrity of the investigation," said District Attorney General Neal Pinkston. "But is that laid to rest if just one agency alone works on it?"

Pinkston, who praised the TBI, said he was unsure how the bill would play out. He hoped legislators were considering specific concerns, such as what happens when different agencies with different policies bump heads during an investigation.

For instance, Pinkston said, Hamilton County police reports are accessible through a public records request, he said, whereas TBI files are sealed by law. Chattanooga officers often tape conversations during an investigation, where the TBI "doesn't record interviews with witnesses," he said.

"That's not a criticism," Pinkston said. "That's just their practice."

The Chattanooga Police Department said in a statement this week said Chief Fred Fletcher and TBI Director Mark Gwyn have been in talks about how to respond to any such shootings.

Josh DeVine, a TBI spokesman, said there's one agent assigned to Hamilton County, who also lives here. He added officers can audio- or videotape recordings "unless circumstances do not allow."

In regard to the bill, "We do have concerns about limited resources," he said via email. The TBI works about 1,500 active criminal cases, he said, and some could slide to the back burner if agents have to respond more regularly to officer-involved shooting scenes.

DeVine said the TBI is "not opposed to a change in law that would allow a greater public access to our findings." But, like Kelsey, he couldn't offer a complete vision of the bill's roll-out.

Asked whether the TBI would place more agents in Chattanooga if the bill passed, DeVine demurred: "That remains to be seen," he wrote.

Contact Zack Peterson at zpeterson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347. Follow @zackpeterson918.

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