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.
A Los Angeles police officer was involved in two fatal shootings within two weeks last summer, according to broadcast reports.
The LAPD identified Eden Medina as the officer involved in the July 28 shooting death of Omar Gonzalez in East Los Angeles and the Aug. 9 shooting death of 14-year-old Jesse Romero in Boyle Heights, according to the reports.
Medina fatally shot Gonzalez – said to be armed with a semi-automatic handgun – during a fight with officers following a pursuit of a stolen car that ended near the 1200 block of Atwood Street, police said.
Medina fatally shot Romero after the teen fired at an officer responding to a vandalism call near Chicago Street and Cesar Chavez Avenue, police said.
Both shootings remain under investigation.
A 300-page report released Tuesday analyzing Los Angeles Police Department data showed a significant increase in the number of officer involved shootings and use of force incidents in 2015.
The report substantiates what many have suspected all along: police are much more likely to use force when it comes to people of color, especially blacks and Latinos, and police officers appear to be woefully unprepared when it comes to dealing with the mentally ill.
The number of African Americans shot by police was disproportionately high — 21% — even though blacks only make up about 9% of the city’s population.
Latinos suffered the highest number of actual police shootings, 22 of the 38 people shot in 2015, or 58%. Latinos make up 48% of the city’s population.
Of the 174 people shot by police from 2011 through 2015, 89 were Latinos.
According to the report, more than one-third of the 38 people shot by police in 2015 were mentally ill – representing a 300% increase from the year prior.
While the number of use of force incidents and police involved shootings only represent a small fraction of all police interactions, it is disturbing that the numbers are trending significantly higher rather than going down.
It begs the questions: are the mentally ill growing in numbers and are Latinos and African Americans just being approached by police officers in greater numbers?
We believe one of the reasons a growing number of Angelenos are being subjected to deadly force is that the LAPD has not adequately trained its officers in tactics for de-escalating volatile situations, particularly those involving blacks, Latinos and the mentally ill.
It isn’t only police officers or the mentally ill who get nervous during police stops, the average person of color gets anxious when approached by the police, conditioned by generations of bad relations and police officers with pre-conceived ideas about why an ordinary person would be nervous during a police encounter.
So what can be done?
We believe there needs to be greater interaction between police and the public in regular, non-confrontational settings. LAPD should strengthen and encourage the principles of community policing and more officers should regularly walk the streets of the neighborhoods they patrol.
Larger numbers of police officers should also be encouraged to live in the inner-city.
Still, until we are able to reduce the number of homeless on city streets and the number of treatment facilities for the mentally ill are increased, we worry that deadly interactions with the police will continue to go up if the department does not step up its training on how to deal with the mentally ill.
Likewise, blacks and Latinos must do more to counsel their family members on how to remain calm and avoid unnecessary confrontations when stopped by police, hopefully avoiding the use of force.
You have to admit there’s a problem, before you can solve it.
That is what the Los Angeles Police Commission did this week when it decided to review the alarming increase in police involved fatal shootings and use-of-force incidents.
The civilian oversight panel’s new president, Matt Johnson, wants to know why the LAPD’s number of police involved shootings has nearly doubled compared to last year: 45 so far this year compared to 23 in all of 2014, and with the backing of his commissioners has moved to begin a review of department data and practices in hopes of reducing future incidents.
We agree that this is an issue that deserves scrutiny by the police commission. It’s imperative that the police commission and the public have greater clarity on why LAPD officers are more frequently turning to lethal force.
There’s no denying that some people – particularly in Latino and African American neighborhoods – find it hard to believe they are being told the truth and all the facts when it comes to fatal police shootings. Despite recent efforts to expand community-based policing, doubt still lingers.
Greater transparency can help, and we hope Johnson’s request for an analysis of 10 years of data on officer involved shootings and use-of-force will be extensive and bring clarity to nagging questions like why LAPD officers opened fire and shot someone 47 different times.
Police Chief Charlie Beck says he supports the inquiry, but he has not always been forthcoming when it comes to details about circumstances surrounding the use of deadly force by officers under his command.
The chief’s reluctance to release information has added to the culture of mistrust felt by the public, especially among African Americans, and even the union representing police officers.
EGP has been criticized by some in our community for not coming down against the police department. But the fact is that the Los Angeles Police Department is not just the officers who have used lethal action against a member of the public. But it’s clear that lack of transparency taints the many good officers who go out every day and serve the community with honor and bravery.
We believe most people understand they need the police to protect them and their property and appreciate when an officer comes to their aid.
LAPD officers need to respect every citizen of the city as they have sworn to do, because trust lost is sometimes impossible to regain.
We look forward to a more open department under Chief Beck. We also look forward to a complete and open discussion of the results of the analysis of the data on the use of lethal force, and police department policies that guide officer conduct in these cases.