Inquests into officer-involved shootings are a valuable tool, but the process needs some tweaks.

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THE verdict in the controversial shooting death of Che Taylor by Seattle police answered a few key questions. The NAACP of Seattle had declared Taylor’s death last February a “coldblooded murder.” But a panel of jurors in the shooting inquest — some of whom were avowed supporters of Black Lives Matter — believed officers’ statements that they shot Taylor to protect themselves. The ruling goes a long way to settling basic questions about the shooting.

But left unanswered are the community’s most basic questions: How could that incident have gone differently? Did the officers have the right training and protocols to avoid a confrontation? In short, did Che Taylor have to die?

The jurors didn’t answer them because they weren’t asked under the inquest process. To get to those deeper questions, King County should consider tweaks to the inquest process.

Inquests themselves are strange. They are not criminal proceedings. They are not civil trials either. Under state law, inquests can be called to determine the cause of death. King County is the only county to routinely hold inquests after a fatal officer-involved shooting.

That is a smart and forward-looking policy, because it daylights the facts that, if left murky, can divide a community. Other counties should follow suit. A bill recently passed out of a state Senate committee would encourage more inquests, and require special consideration if law enforcement was involved in the death.

King County’s process is solid, with prosecutors acting as fact-finders, and officers represented by their own attorneys. But families of the deceased are left to hire their own attorneys, if they can afford to. King County should provide the families a lawyer because these families have legitimate questions to ask.

The Che Taylor inquest also spotlighted strange rulings by District Court Judge Janet Garrow. She banned audio recordings of the public proceeding, and let witnesses — including officers who were not working undercover — decide if they wanted to be photographed. Bad move. Garrow forgot that she was presiding in open court over a proceeding intended to foster public trust. Future inquests should set clearer media access rules.

The biggest change should be a reconsideration of the purpose of an inquest. They’re not merely to determine a cause of death: we already know that. The public, law enforcement and government leaders could learn more if broader questions are asked. Did the officers act reasonably, given their training? Did officers have sufficient training to de-escalate the incident? What policies could be changed?

Inquests are a valuable tool to get to the truth about officer-involved shootings. King County Executive Dow Constantine, and his successors, should sharpen the process to make them more useful.