Crime & Justice

Police Commission considers policy changes for the LAPD to reduce officer involved shootings

Logo on LAPD motorcyle
Logo on LAPD motorcyle
Photo by Steve Devol via Flickr Creative Commons

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Amid a growing outcry over police shootings, the Los Angeles Police Commission Tuesday will consider a range of reforms that would require more training for officers to avoid the use of deadly force and greater transparency when officers decide they must.

The five-member civilian police commission, appointed by the mayor, sets policy for the LAPD. Several months ago, the commission asked the city's Inspector General to look into use of force and transparency policies at other large city police departments that are considered more progressive – and to report back with recommendations for the LAPD.

In doing so, the Inspector General has recommended that the LAPD provide more details to the public after an officer involved shooting.  The report cites the Las Vegas Police Department, which provides a briefing to the media 72 hours after every shooting and posts it on YouTube. Las Vegas police also release video from their officers' body cameras. The report recommends the LAPD do the same – something LAPD Chief Charlie Beck has opposed.

Since the police shooting of Michael Brown in August of 2014 and the LAPD shooting of Ezell Ford just two days later in South L.A., there's been an explosion of anger over the shooting of unarmed black men. Its been a chorus impossible for police leaders to ignore.

The Inspector General's report addresses the central question - when should an officer be allowed to use deadly force - and recommends the LAPD adopt a more restrictive policy, as some other police departments have.

It states: “Several of the departments’ policies include the concepts of using deadly force only as a last resort, requiring officers to exhaust all reasonable alternatives prior to using deadly force, and placing an emphasis on the use of de-escalation techniques in critical incidents," the report says. "The LAPD’s use of force policy does not currently include similar language.”

The report acknowledges that the LAPD trains officers on specific "verbalization techniques," where officers speak to suspects in an effort to de-escalate the situation, but those techniques are not required under policy.

The department is currently in negotiations with the police officer's union to adopt new language for when officers may use deadly force. The language is confidential, but this report, if adopted by the commission, asks police leaders to come back within 90 days with three changes:

The report also calls on the LAPD to use more reality-based, non-classroom training with officers and emphasize de-escalation and preservation of life in that training.

“This report is extremely significant,” said former police commissioner Rob Saltzman, a USC law professor and one of the LAPD’s harshest critics. “This report is a big step toward putting the LAPD at the forefront of three issues: use of force policy, training and transparency.”

A review of shootings in 2015 found that 40 percent involved someone with signs of mental illness, and 45 percent involved people with weapons other than firearms. Commission President Matt Johnson told KPCC he believes the recommendations in this report have the potential to reduce the number of future officer involved shootings.

"In situations where the opportunity to reduce the use of deadly force, we want to capitalize on those,” he said. 

Police union leaders have accused members of the police commission of being "anti-cop" as the panel has adopted tougher standards for the LAPD. 

In recent weeks, the commission found that three LAPD officers acted out of policy on shootings that took place several years ago. One involved a woman with a knife, another a homeless man who threw a bottle through the back windshield of a police car.

Johnson responded to criticism he's not supporting the rank and file, saying he and  his fellow commissioners are working on making the department better.

"The last thing I am is anti-police," he said.