AirTalk for December 18, 2013

LAPD Chief Beck on deadly police pursuits, jaywalking crackdown and more

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck (C) speaks during a news conference at Los Angeles Dodger Stadium on April 14, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.

A dramatic police pursuit last Friday saw LA Sheriffs, California Highway Patrol and LA Police pursue a suspect in a speeding Corvette for nearly an hour.

The suspect then crashed into another car, tried to get away on foot, but was quickly surrounded by patrol cars After gunfire ensued, the suspect was transported to hospital where he died. Most of it was captured on live television, but so far Chief Beck says there was a different perspective from officers on the ground.

A much less dire controversy involves a crackdown on jaywalking on LA's downtown streets. As LA Downtown News reports, in an effort to enhance public safety, tickets in the $200 range are issued for illegal crossing, and even stepping off the curb waiting to cross. Residents say it's damaging the relationship between police and the community. 

We'll also address the latest on safety at LAX, the $6-million settlement resulting from LAPD's so-called traffic-ticket quota imposed on officers, and more.

Guest:

Charlie Beck, Chief of Los Angeles Police Department

Interview Highlights:

On the status of the LAPD motorcycle officer who was in a car accident Wednesday morning:
"He's stable, and I think that right now his injuries are restricted to one broken wrist and some cuts and bruises. A very tragic accident, he flew right over the vehicle that turned in front of him, and it could have been much, much worse, so we're not releasing his identity at this point, we're still working to make sure his family knows and all of that. It highlights the dangers of not only being a police motorcycle office, but just riding motorcycles in general."

On the Friday Corvette car chase that ended in a suspect's death:
"As we do with every officer-involved shooting, we're doing a complete investigation of this. What is in the officer's mind is what we try to determine. They make split second decisions based on the information that they have at the moment. Decisions are made in the moment and then they're judged over a period of time and that's what I'm in the process of doing now. It's impossible for me to tell you at this point, exactly why the officers fired.

"There are many, many more parts of the investigation that have to be done. Their interviews have to be completed, their initial interviews have been done. They will do interviews with their attorneys following that. We have forensic material to examine, the number of rounds fired, the video, there was considerable video taken, so we'll look at all of that.

"We'll get into the minds of the officers when they made the decision and we'll make a determination and if there's officer behavior that needs to be modified either through discipline or training then that's what we'll do. It's just too early to comment on it, I'll get my initial briefing...sometime tomorrow. The investigation will continue and it will be done in concert with our inspector general, with the district attorney, it will be presented at its conclusion at the police commission who will make a decision on whether or not its in or out of policy and I'll either administer discipline or not, depending on that decision and what facts come out in the case.

"We have a very thorough process, probably the most complete process in the United States for reviewing these things, but it comes down to a split second decision that is made by one or two officers." 

How many rounds were fired?
"At this point I believe there were about 15 to 20 rounds fired, as I said I have not gotten my complete briefing yet. But that's my understanding."

How many officers have been relieved of duty temporarily while the investigation is ongoing:
"Right now I think we have three shooters, there was almost 20 officers at scene. The shooters are the ones that are relieved of duty."

Were beanbag rounds fired?
"It's my understanding right now that beanbag was deployed, whether or not that had any bearing on whether the officers firing, I don't know at this point. We use the beanbags hundreds of times a year and it doesn't result in officers firing their weapons, so I think that's a leap although it may turn out that that's what this is. But its far too early to say. People can speculate all they want, and I think that that's what everybody has to realize. You can jump to conclusions and draw your own realities about what occurred, but until the investigation is completed and these things have a pace at which they are completed, we will not know." 

What methods are in place to avoid confusion with bean bag rounds? 
"We have a very clear warning that is part of the beanbag deployment to make sure that that exact thing doesn't happen. I'm assuming that's what occurred in this incident though I do not know at this point. We will look at that. It's important to recognize though that these things are very confusing at the time that they occur. While it's very easy to dissect things in the cold light of day with no danger no sound, no adrenaline pumping. These are tough decisions that officers make and we hold them to a very high standard. I'm not diminishing the standard by which we judge this, I'm just trying to get people to understand that after pursuing an individual and seeing a horrific crash where two absolutely innocents were injured due to his behavior, officers have to be able to control that adrenaline and that's what we train them to do and we select the best people possible, and then we judge them very critically." 

Are officers sometimes too quick to pursue?
"I think that many time people assume that just because there's a police pursuit that that somehow is the reason that these crashes occurred. The instinct to flee by people involved in crime is very strong. Whether or not the officer's vehicle after the initial attempt to stop follows or not, may have nothing to do if that person speeds away. I think you're attaching a rationale that may or may not occur to an individual. All they know for sure is that the police tried to detain them. Whether or not the police are in pursuit, they don't know that. If you're asking should police make detentions based on criminal behavior, well, I think that we should."

When a chase goes on for an extended period of time, that's presumably because those in the fleeing vehicle see that the police are chasing them: 
"We do over 300 pursuits a year, some of them last seconds. What I'm trying to do is inform you about the variation that occurs here. Obviously if it's an hour long pursuit the individual knows they're being pursued. By the time the general public becomes aware, and watches it on TV, a pursuit is well in the process. The vast majority of these things are over in a minute. I think that things have to be not viewed in their extreme, which are these long pursuits, but in the vast majority, which are much shorter pursuits that result in detention and arrest.

"We have strict rules about when we pursue, we have strict rules about who is allowed to pursue. We require supervision as soon as practicable during a pursuit. We want the watch commander or the supervisor in the pursuit to make the determination about whether that pursuit should continue based on the seriousness of the suspected crime that the individual is involved in. We demand that the helicopter take over the pursuit as soon as we can. That the pursuing vehicles back off to give a space between the vehicle pursued when that makes sense.

"Also remember that one of the reasons that a police car's behind an individual that's traveling at high speeds in traffic is to warn oncoming traffic. The individual who is causing the pursuit oftentimes has their lights off, they're driving in high speeds, they're going through intersections and traffic controls. Without the police vehicle at some proximity behind them, the public has no way of knowing."

So you're hoping that they'll pull over?
"They do. People become aware that the police are coming and they pull over. The vast majority will see and hear the sirens at an intersection and slow down. As you can see in a pursuit, many many accidents are avoided because police emergency equipment that is behind them, these are very dangerous incidents, and we try to control them as best as possible.

"I think that many time people are too quick to place the blame on the recognized authority, which is us, the police, and that's my job, I don't mind discussing this or shouldering the responsibility when appropriate, but remember it is the obligation of the person driving the vehicle to pull to the side of the curb. To stop. To not flee, to not run into two women driving a car that had absolutely nothing to do with this. I think that oftentimes the focus is on the police and it should be more appropriately on the individual."

Why are officers citing people for jaywalking when the countdown begins?

"Officers have always done that, that is the law. That's the way the law is written. It's not a new interpretation. This time of year in downtown LA, we see a tremendous uptick in pedestrian-involved traffic accidents, many of which are fatalities. This is the most crowded period of the year in downtown. A lot of that traffic can be impeded by pedestrians who are not following the rules in crosswalks. Every year at this time we focus on pedestrian safety."


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