Michal Czerwonka/Getty Images
Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck talks to members of the media in front of City Hall in downtown in the early hours of November 30, 2011 in Los Angeles.
Police often have only a few seconds to decide whether or not to shoot someone. If officers do decide to pull the trigger, either killing or wounding someone, this use of deadly force must be investigated and found to be justified.
The city charter gives the five-member Police Commission the authority to decide whether a shooting was justified, but then decisions on how to discipline the officers who did the shooting rest with the police chief.
This division of power works well when both authorities agree, which they usually do. "In the vast majority of these cases, across the board, we agree," said Robert Saltzman, Police Commission member. "There are very few number of cases where we disagree...It's important to keep that in context."
Some commissioners are concerned that, on the few occasions the commission has ruled against Beck’s recommendation that it find the use of force to be justified, the chief has evidently given out only light punishment, or none at all.
In the five shootings Beck and the commission disagreed on, the officers involved got written reprimands or no punishment at all, according to the Los Angeles Times.
"If this pattern continues, it could undermine the entire discipline system and undermine the authority of the commission," Saltzman told the L.A. Times. "It runs the risk of sending the message to officers that there will be no consequences."
Beck stands by his decisions, maintaining that he does not mete out excessive discipline to officers he believes acted within policy.
"What officers are trained is a standard of a reasonable officer," said former LAPD officer David Klinger. "Could a reasonable officer at the scene have believed that this circumstance warranted deadly force? I think that, generally speaking, people with law enforcement experience are better suited, better situated, to make that judgment. "
What message is Beck sending by not exacting stricter punishments for the use of deadly force? Does the chief have too much authority in the disciplinary process?
Robert Saltzman, member of the Police Commission and associate dean at USC law school
David Klinger, former Los Angeles Police Department officer; associate professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Missouri-St. Louis; author of “Into the Kill Zone: A Cop's Eye View of Deadly Force”