LAPD use of force rule change would emphasize de-escalation

LAPD Police Commissioners are expected to approve a new use of force guideline Tuesday that would emphasize de-escalation, a move that aims to reduce police involved shootings, but would mean more scrutiny for police.

The new one sentence policy would be added to the existing use of force section in the LAPD’s manual of policies and procedures, but that one sentence would have far reaching implications for how police engage with suspects, local radio station KPCC reported.

“Officers shall attempt to control an incident by using time, distance, communications and available resources in an effort to de-escalate the situation, whenever it is safe and reasonable to do so,” the proposed change said.

First launched in the 1920’s, the Police Commission is a civilian ‘board of directors’ for the Los Angeles Police Department. Whenever an LAPD officer fires his or her service weapon, the commission reviews the incident with three things in mind: tactics, the decision to draw the weapon, and the decision to fire. They consider input from LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and the inspector general when coming to conclusions.

A 2015 Use of Force executive summary put out by the LAPD found an annual average of 44.6 officer involved shootings in the city from 2011 to 2015, second only to the Chicago Police Department which averaged 48.4 officer involved shootings in the same timeframe. Last year, the commission found eight shootings to be unjustified by Los Angeles cops, according to an analysis by the Los Angeles Times.

If the commission approves the policy change, Chief Beck would be able to discipline, or possibly fire officers if they fail to properly de-escalate before opening fire.

The president of Los Angeles Police Protective League, the 9,800 strong police union, said the commissioners are giving in to politics.

“These officers, a lot of them are shutting down because their career might be in danger. They might lose their house, their family, their kids because they make one bad move,” said Craig Lally, the union’s president. “If you make a mistake, you’re going to…go through hell for it.”

While the union wants the commission to ease up, Black Lives Matters activists say it isn’t going far enough.

“Wouldn’t it be forward thinking if the police commission recommended, for instance, that mental health workers be the first responders to mental health crisis rather than police,” said Black Lives Matter organizer Melina Abdullah.

Police Commission President Matt Johnson has led the charge to reduce officer involved shootings since 2015. He said he hears both sides, and he believes the board has a “moral obligation to preserve life when we can,” but he also values the commission’s independence.

“We’ve been second-guessed by the Police Protective League and we’ve been second-guessed by activists that come to our meetings,” he said. “I won’t allow myself to have my decisions governed by whether I’m making someone happy or making someone upset.”