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Crime & Justice

LA Police Commission President on increasing transparency and reducing police shootings

Matthew Johnson is president of the Los Angeles Police Commission. Johnson was elected president of the commission in September 2015.
Matthew Johnson is president of the Los Angeles Police Commission. Johnson was elected president of the commission in September 2015.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

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Don't shoot if you don't have to.

That's the message the Los Angeles Police Commission sent to officers Tuesday as it approved a sweeping set of reforms. 

The five-member panel released a raft of proposals designed to reduce the number of police shootings. These recommendations come at a time of great public outrage about the lethal use of force by officers. The police union is not pleased with the commission's plan.

Matt Johnson, president of the  L.A. Police Commission, joined Take Two to discuss the reforms.

Interview highlights

On the need for more transparency

"When it comes to officer-involved shootings we haven't had a formal process of what information is released and when it is released. Sometimes we do it in our commission meetings, sometimes there is a press conference that the [LAPD] chief has, and it's somewhat ad hoc, how it's done. So we looked around the country, looked at other departments at how they were doing it, and we saw some good examples out there. So I instructed the department to go and take a look at some of these other departments and then come back to us with a formal protocol for us to discuss that would formalize a process for us to release accurate information in a responsible way."

On the benefits and limits of video footage

"If the expectation of the public is that even with body cameras that it's going to be like watching a movie, I can tell you, having now watched hours and hours of body camera footage, it's never like that. And rarely do you get a perfect picture of what occurred. But, I will say this, it is a very important piece of evidence, and often it is the most important piece of evidence. So personally I'm very much in favor of the widespread deployment of body cameras. And we are on track, by the end of next year, that every officer in our city will have body cameras."

On ways to reduce use of deadly force by police

"One is policy. You look at the policy and change the policy in a way that keeps officers safe. We're never going to get to zero. We live in a particularly violent city, and it's just unrealistic. We can only control the officer's behavior, we can't control the suspect's behavior. So we always have to be mindful of that and we can't hold officers to unrealistic expectations. As we saw, we had three officers in the last week in the state of California, including a sheriff's deputy right here in Los Angeles, lose their lives while responding to calls to protect citizens. So one, we change the policy to build in that idea that deadly force should only be used as a last resort. The second part of that is we build in a requirement that if the opportunity reasonably exists to de-escalate a situation, we expect our officers to attempt to de-escalate the situation."

To hear the full interview, click the blue player above.