In a decision born out of the national uproar over police shooting at unarmed black men, the Los Angeles Police Commission approved a sweeping set of reforms Tuesday aimed at getting officers to hold their fire.
One of the reforms requires officers to exhaust all non-lethal means before shooting, and practicing de-escalation during incidents. The department already teaches this in its academy for new recruits, but enacting it as policy means that officers could be disciplined for failing to see a reasonable alternative to shooting.
The package approved by the police commission also includes providing more training for officers to help them develop better de-escalation and verbal skills when confronted with a violent suspect.
Finally, the commission asked the department to come back in 90 days with specifics on how it can be more transparent after shootings. A report prepared by the Inspector General pointed to the Las Vegas Police Department as a model.
“Not only does that agency post a video statement regarding the incident on YouTube just hours after it happens, but the department also gives a comprehensive presentation to the media within the week summarizing the current information learned from the investigation up to that point,” the report said. “By contrast, information about an OIS incident provided by LAPD representatives at the scene and in subsequent press releases is generally limited.”
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck would not immediately endorse the Las Vegas approach, arguing his department releases a lot of information when it presents a shooting to the police commission. Critics say that’s usually nearly a year later.
“Given the political climate…we are going to have to look at when it makes the most sense to release information,” Beck said. Last week, Beck violated his own guidelines and released video of a young man running around with a gun in his hand moments before he was shot by LAPD officers.
The reforms are a result of a directive from the police commission, which was issued several months ago. The commission asked the city's Inspector General to examine policing, training and transparency policies at other large city police departments around the county, particularly those with more progressive approaches. The Inspector General looked at policies in place at the San Diego, Las Vegas, Washington D.C. and Dallas police departments. After comparing those policies to LAPD policies, a report was submitted to the commission with reform recommendations.
Now that the commission has approved those recommendations, the chief and his staff have 90 days to develop specific language and policies to present to the police commission. That report will illuminate their level of support for these reforms.
A myriad of other policing issues were buried in the report, including how fast officers who shoot are returned to patrol. Commission President Matt Johnson noted the LAPD sometimes returns officers to the field within days after just one meeting with a department psychiatrist.
“Is that enough?” he asked.
Black Lives Matter activists were not in the room when the commission approved what some considered the panel’s most important step toward reducing police shootings. Screaming activists had been thrown out of the meeting more than hour beforehand. They were invited to return but declined, according to the LAPD.
Police union leaders have denounced the proposals, worried it will make officers hesitant to shoot, thus endangering their own lives.
Commissioner Sandra Figueroa-Villa said the commission wants to reduce shootings, but know it’s impossible to have none.