The Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners approved new policies Tuesday that call on officers to use more de-escalation techniques before resorting to deadly force.
The changes come amid a heightened focus on police shootings, both in Los Angeles and across the country, and as the commission works to decrease the number of deadly encounters between officers and the public.
One of the changes, which will be added to the preamble of the department’s official use-of-force policy, states that 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 changes stem from a set of recommendations issued in March of last year by Commission President Matthew Johnson and then-Commissioner Robert Saltzman, and the measures will be considered when an officer is facing possible discipline for using force.
Police Chief Charlie Beck voiced support for the policy change, which he said was negotiated with the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union representing rank-and-file officers. Union leaders had voiced concern over the changes when they were first brought forward.
“I think not only is this a good policy that is well thought-out that will make changes in our use of force in practice and in training, but I think it’s also a model for collaboration,” Beck said.
“This is a very difficult subject that has a number of stakeholders with very strong opinions. And for all of us to be able to come together and to work through this and to take the time to make something that the union agrees with, the commission agrees with and the department’s management agrees with is a significant step forward,” according to the chief.
According to the LAPPL, the change simply formalizes a policy that has always been in place.
“Preserving innocent lives and de-escalating dangerous situations has always been, and will continue to be, a core value for Los Angeles police officers. We train on these values at our academy and practice them every day in the service of our community,” according to the union. “We worked hard to formalize these values into a department policy that will provide for the ability of police officers to protect their personal safety and the safety of innocent bystanders.”
The commission approved the policy change on a 5-0 vote over objections from activists who spoke out against the language changes. Many argued the significant additions are only included in the preamble to the policy and do not include any detailed breakdown or mention of de-escalation techniques in the section outlining factors that will be considered to determine the reasonableness of a use of force.
Commissioner Cynthia McClain-Hill raised concerns over the lack of any mention of de-escalation in the factors section, but still voted for the changes.
“I have to say that language matters,” she said.
McClain-Hill did make a motion that the commission and department continue to work to include explicit language about de-escalation in the sections of the policy that reference deadly force, which was also approved.
Pete White of the Los Angeles Community Action Network was one of more than a dozen speakers who voiced opposition to the language used in the changes.
“Why did the department highlight de-escalation in the preamble but left it out of the standards that can be evaluated? That would be a question that you should go back to, Cynthia, because you are very clear that if you put it in the preamble, the preamble ain’t policy,” White said. ”It means nothing when you get behind the doors and begin to evaluate our murders.”
Black Lives Matter and other activist groups, the last few years have argued that the department doesn’t do enough to avoid deadly encounters and organized frequent demonstrations against the commission and the LAPD.
Many of the speakers who expressed outrage at the department Tuesday over the policy changes said the amendments either didn’t go far enough, weren’t clear enough or would end up being toothless due to the significant changes only being in the preamble. Others were angry the public wasn’t engaged enough when the changes were considered.
“Changes to language in the use-of-force policy to incorporate the language of de-escalation will not change conditions on the ground,” said Jerry Dietrich of the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition.
BOYLE HEIGHTS – An officer-involved shooting in Boyle Heights last week that claimed the life of a 14-year-old boy, sparking outrage by many in the eastside neighborhood, has also generated calls for greater investment in program and services for Los Angeles youth.
Dozens of members of the 23 nonprofits that make up the Boyle Heights for Youth Campaign at a press conference last Friday called on city officials to fund a department focused on youth development services citywide.
Standing at the Ross Valencia pocket park across from the LAPD’s Hollenbeck Station and Boyle Heights City Hall, the group insisted that investing more city money in programs that keep young people on a productive path and off the streets is the key to reducing crime in the area.
Lou Calanche, executive director at Legacy LA and Boyle Heights for Youth – two groups dedicated to advocating for at-risk youth – told EGP that putting money into after school mentoring, homework help, workforce development, college support and other services targeted at supporting low-income young people is an investment in public safety.
Legacy LA, which serves youth in Boyle Heights and the Ramona Gardens Housing Development, strives to give young people an alternative to gangs and violence.
According to police, on Aug. 9, 14-year-old Jesse James Romero shot a handgun in the direction of police who were chasing him on foot in response to a report of vandalism involving “gang writing.”
“According to a witness, who saw the subject running from the officers, the witness saw the subject shoot a handgun in the direction of the pursuing officers,” LAPD Deputy Chief Robert Arcos said during a press conference the next day.
Arcos said the pursuing officers heard a gunshot as they approached a corner during the chase.
“As the officers rounded the corner, one of the officers became involved in an officer-involved shooting,” Arcos said, adding he could not say if the officer who shot Romero was under fire at the time the teen was shot.
According to the LA Times, however, another witness told the news outlet that she saw Romero pull a handgun from his waistband, throw it at a fence and when it hit the ground she heard the weapon fire.
A handgun was recovered from the scene. The investigation is “ongoing.”
It’s these types of tragedies Calanche says Legacy LA and Boyle Heights for Youth want to prevent.
After hearing about Romero’s shooting by police, Brown Beret member Robert Cristo, 24, said he felt compelled to attend Friday’s press conference.
“We were shocked and appalled,” Cristo said. “But this shooting is a clear example of the lack of youth development in the area” that too often leads to tragic outcomes for young people living in working class neighborhoods.
Several protests have been held in the wake of this most recent officer-involved shooting. Romero’s family is demanding justice and they dispute claims that he may have been involved with gangs.
At protest rallies and vigils, area activists decried what they call a rash of police-involved shootings of “Mexican-American youth in Boyle Heights.” Four other officer-involved shootings have taken place since February 2016, “and residents are angry and demanding an end to the police violence,” organizers of a protest rally Saturday at the Hollenbeck Police Station said.
For Calanche and others, the conversation should not just be about blame or whether the teen really had a gun.
“We should be talking about helping youth, not waiting for them to commit a crime,” she told EGP.
Cristo says communities like Boyle Heights that have a problem with gang violence need to deal with the “root of the problem,” which he boils down to a lack of opportunities and alternatives to gangs.
According to 2010 census data, an estimated 1 million people under the age of 24 live in Los Angeles. The City of L.A.’s budget allocates $42 million for youth programs and workforce development, nearly the same amount it spends on animal services, organizers of Friday’s press conference complained.
“The city [of Los Angeles] spends more on the zoos than it does on youth,” said a resentful Araceli Rodriguez, 19.
Nancy Flores believes the city’s budget reflects other priorities.
“With almost half of the city budget going to law enforcement, as a youth in the community, that says to me that we are not the priority to our city officials,” Flores said.
“It’s saying incarcerating us is more important than investing in programs to prevent us from cycling through the system.”
Participation in youth programs is the solution, says Rodriguez, who personally takes part in youth-oriented programs offered in Boyle Heights. But she’s quick to point out that many of her Garfield High School peers don’t have the same support.
“A lot of youth in this area are first generation,” she said, acknowledging that many of “their parents can’t really help them with school or are busy working.”
Tragically, too often it’s the gangs that become mentors, Calanche lamented.
Rodriguez told EGP she hopes city officials come together and step in soon to turn things around.
“Everyone says that youth are the future, but the city of LA doesn’t invest in us, or our future.”
BOYLE HEIGHTS – A 14-year-old boy killed in an officer-involved shooting in Boyle Heights was seen by a witness firing a handgun in the direction of officers before he was shot, police said Wednesday.
No officers were injured in the shooting, which occurred at 5:50 p.m. Tuesday in the area of Breed Street and Cesar Chavez Avenue, according to the Los Angeles Police Department.
Jesse James Romero of Los Angeles died at the scene, said coroner’s Assistant Chief Ed Winter.
At a news conference this morning at police headquarters, LAPD Deputy Chief Robert Arcos said officers had gone to the neighborhood on a report of vandalism involving “gang writing,” and that the suspects were described as being about 14-16 years of age.
Arcos said officers spotted two suspects, and one fled on foot.
“According to a witness, who saw the subject running from the officers, the witness saw the subject shoot a handgun in the direction of the pursuing officers,” Arcos said.
He said the pursuing officers heard a gunshot as they approached a corner during the pursuit.
“As the officers rounded the corner, one of the officers became involved in an officer-involved shooting,” he said.
Arcos told reporters he could not say if the officer who shot Romero was under fire at the time the teen was shot. The investigation was “ongoing” and officers were still being interviewed, he said.
Officers were wearing body cameras, and the recorded images will be part of the investigation, Arcos said. Also, Arcos said he could not say if Romero was involved in gangs.
At the news conference, police displayed a large photo of what they said was a loaded revolver that was recovered at the shooting scene. The handgun is being tested for DNA and fingerprints, Arcos aid.
In an earlier briefing from the scene of the shooting, LAPD Detective Meghan Aguilar said Gang Enforcement Detail officers had gotten into the foot pursuit with suspects in the area of Chicago Street and Cesar Chavez Avenue.
Arcos said that so far this year, the department has had four officers fired upon and two who have been shot.
“The tragedy of this event cannot be understated,” he said. “In a community where violent crime continues to rise, particularly gang crime, this event underscores the need for youth programs and outreach to provide opportunities and alternatives for the youth of our communities.”
Teresa Dominguez, who said she is Romero’s mother, told KPCC radio her son “was a good boy.”
“He didn’t do anything violent,” she said, noting that the family has lived in Boyle Heights for six years, and she works as a vegetable packer.
Lourdes Miranda, who said she knew Romero, told KPCC the teen “was in the gangs” but he was “a good kid.”
“He was smart. He was friendly. He did good in school,” Miranda said.
“Very respectful, never disrespected anyone. Always quiet.”
She added: “Kids are dumb. They think it makes them cool or whatever.”
Ultimately, however, “he didn’t deserve this,” Miranda said.
The shooting was the second on Tuesday that involved LAPD officers. Officers shot and wounded a man shortly after 2 a.m. Tuesday during a traffic stop in the 5500 block of Nordyke Street near Eagle Rock, according to the LAPD.
The suspect in that shooting, a man in his 30s, was hospitalized in stable condition. A handgun was recovered at the shooting scene, police said.