The L.A. Police Commission has been more inclined to find officers out-of-policy for shooting at civilians in recent months.
The most recent decision, last week's finding that Officer Clifford Proctor acted out-of-policy when he fatally shot 29-year-old Brendon Glenn, was at least the fifth time an officer has been found out-of-policy for shooting at a civilian in 2015.
That's an uptick from previous years, with many of 2015's shootings yet to be reviewed.
According to figures provided by the commission, the number of LAPD officers later found to have acted out-of-policy when using lethal force has varied over the past few years: there were four in 2011, two in 2012, 16 in 2013 (the majority of them were from the same incident), and four in 2014. The numbers include officers who shot at suspects, but the bullets didn't hit them.
The five officers whose use of deadly force was found out-of-policy so far in 2015 were all involved in separate incidents.
“It’s not a large number, but it is a significant number,” said Raphe Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute at Cal State L.A. “There’s real transformation going on in how these incidents are evaluated. The Commission has clearly been looking at things like, did the officers act in a way that helped create the circumstance in which a confrontation occurred? And that’s a little more of a cutting edge view.”
In February, the Police Commission found an officer acted out of policy when he fatally shot 35-year-old Sergio Navas during a traffic stop in Burbank in 2015.
That same month, the commission determined a March 2015 incident in Santa Clarita was also out-of-policy. In that case, an off-duty officer was driving when the driver of another vehicle fired a weapon at the officer's truck. The officer fired one shot which the Police Commission found to be in policy, but he fired several subsequent shots which the commission ruled out of policy. No one was injured in the incident.
The commission ruled another off-duty officer was out-of-policy when, in March 2015, the officer fired his personal handgun at a man he believed to be trespassing, injuring the man’s shoulder.
In March, commissioners ruled that an off-duty LAPD detective acted out of policy when she fired at an unarmed man in San Dimas in January 2015. In that case, no one was hurt.
And Tuesday, the commission found Officer Clifford Proctor had no cause to shoot Brendon Glenn, a 29-year-old homeless man who had allegedly been arguing with a bouncer and harassing patrons outside a Venice bar.
LAPD Captain Andy Neiman said the detective in the San Dimas shooting remains with the department. As of publication time, the department did not provide information on whether officers in the four other incidents are still on the job.
The decisions by the commissioners, who are appointed by the mayor, are not unheard of, but still significant, Sonenshein said.
“I think this has been a relatively assertive Police Commission and sometimes it has gone into some stronger positions than anybody expected," he said. "So I think it’s turned out to be a fairly interesting board.”
In Proctor's case, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck has also recommended criminal charges against the officer—which is an extremely rare move.
While a handful of officers are found to have acted out of policy each year, they are almost never charged. A KPCC investigation into officer involved shootings in L.A. County over a five-year period found that in hundreds of cases involving police firing on civilians in recent years, no law enforcement officer in L.A. County has been charged for shooting someone while on duty since 2000.
In that case, former LAPD Officer Ron Orosco was charged with assault.
Timothy T. Williams, a retired LAPD detective and use of force expert, said the findings that Proctor acted out of policy may not matter when it comes to District Attorney Jackie Lacey's decision on whether to charge him with a crime.
Her office says she has not yet decided.
“The Police Commission and Police Chief look at the totality of the circumstances: they look at what got them there, they look at tactics that were used to address the concerns, they look at the drawing of the weapon, and they look at was the use of force reasonable,” he said.
Williams said the District Attorney in deciding whether or not to prosecute, has to look at a different set of criteria.
“It’s like a regular citizen. The [DA’s office] has to look at the case and see if there was a crime,” Williams said.
Building a case with enough evidence to prove criminal intent can be more difficult than just showing that an officer failed to follow department procedure, Williams said.
“The D.A.’s office doesn’t look at this lightly,” he said. “It’s a very serious allegation what this officer has been accused of.”