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Who polices the police? 

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During the past year, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police officers have shot four people and killed another with a Taser.

Investigations of each incident have been handled internally. The latest shooting, which happened May 20, has renewed questions whether police should handle these investigations.

That day, Aaron Winchester was shot and killed by office David Jester following a foot chase. Jester was responding to a domestic call and saw Winchester, 21, walking down Sylvania Avenue. As Winchester ran from the officer, he reached into his pants pocket and removed a gun, police said. Jester fired four shots at Winchester, whom police said pointed the gun at the officer. Two shots hit Winchester in the back.

Since the shooting, reports have surfaced of conflicting witness statements. The Charlotte Observer and local TV stations have reported that some people on the scene claimed Winchester never pointed a gun at the officer.

As with other officer-involved shootings, CMPD is handling the investigation, even though other large police departments in North Carolina do involve the State Bureau of Investigations in these types of cases.

"We have the training and the experience to gather this information," said Julie Hill, a CMPD spokeswoman. "But keep in mind, that's not a decision that we make. All of the information gets presented to a district attorney. Charlotte is one of the only cities in the country that has three levels of review on any of its work and that includes substantial citizen oversight," says Hill.

A new law that took effect in October, however, allows families to ask, through the district attorney's office, for an SBI investigation. "When that happens, we turn everything over to the SBI, if we do receive [a request]," Hill said.

Local attorney Ken Harris, who was hired by the family of a teenager who died after an officer stunned him with a Taser, is currently conducting an independent investigation into 17-year-old Darryl Turner's death.

Harris said it's not uncommon for families of people who have died in police custody or have been shot by police to hire an attorney to conduct a separate investigation while police are doing their investigation.

"There are times that arise when an independent investigation may uncover facts that weren't uncovered in the initial investigation," Harris said.

Harris declined to talk about details of his investigation but he did say families should have an opportunity to obtain an "objective set of facts."

If the number of police shootings seems to have increased, Hill said that the number of incidents where officers have weapons pulled on them by suspects has also increased.

According to a release from CMPD, there have been 120 assaults on officers in 2008, with 14 of those assaults involving firearms. Police say the rate of assaults involving firearms has increased from 8.8 percent in 2007 to 11.7 percent this year.

Within the last decade, police have investigated 20 nonfatal shootings by officers. Four are still under investigation, while 16 others were finished with the department determining officers' actions were justified.

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