Crime & Justice

How LAPD liaisons could help grieving families

File: Tritobia Ford lights candles at a memorial for her son, Ezell Ford, a 25-year-old mentally ill black man, at the site where he was shot and killed by two LAPD officers in August, on Dec. 29, 2014 in L.A. A new LAPD plan would have officers reaching out more to families shot by police.
File: Tritobia Ford lights candles at a memorial for her son, Ezell Ford, a 25-year-old mentally ill black man, at the site where he was shot and killed by two LAPD officers in August, on Dec. 29, 2014 in L.A. A new LAPD plan would have officers reaching out more to families shot by police.
David McNew/Getty Images

Listen to story

00:55
Download this story 0.0MB

When her 18-year-old son was fatally shot by an LAPD officer in Watts last month, Lisa Simpson says the department never called her, and she had to learn from news reports that he allegedly shot at officers.

"They should have been more acceptable to a mother’s feelings about losing their child," Simpson told KPCC. “They should have come up to me and apologized for the loss of my son.” 

Under a new plan, the LAPD would have a department liaison for the family members of people shot by police.

“I really do like the idea,” Simpson said. “At least have somebody on my side that can walk me through all the steps.”

The plan, introduced by Police Commission President Matt Johnson Tuesday, calls for a department official to act as the primary contact for families. In the past, the LAPD contacted family members on an “ad hoc” basis, Johnson said.

“We are trying to show empathy here,” Johnson said. “These are traumatic events for families.”

The liaison would provide details about the shooting, information about how to obtain a death certificate and a time frame for the investigation. Family members could contact the liasion at any time to find out the status of the investigation.

At the same time, the family would likely receive no more information than the public, said Johnson.

“That won’t change,” Johnson said. "We are under certain constraints."

The LAPD, like most police departments, declines to release details of an investigation, citing California law that allows police agencies wide latitude in keeping information secret. Images from body worn cameras on officers, for example, are never released.

Still, Johnson said, assigning one person to help people whose loved ones have been shot by police is a good idea.

“This will make sure that the information we can share, the family and loved ones will get it in a timely manner.”

The move comes amid increasing scrutiny of police shootings across the country and loud protests at police commission meetings over the past year. Those protests have included family members, including Simpson, who have made impassioned statements about the lack of information from the LAPD about loved ones shot by officers.

“I am responding to what I’ve been seeing in police commission meetings recently,” Johnson said.

But even if a department spokesperson had reached out to her, Simpson said she would not have believed the LAPD's story that her son, Richard Risher, shot at officers.

“I know for sure he didn’t have one," Simpson said of police reports that he had a gun.

She said she plans to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the department.