The Los Angeles Police Commission Tuesday is expected to approve a new shooting policy that would require LAPD officers to try to de-escalate confrontations before opening fire on a suspect. The move follows a nationwide uproar over police shootings and a campaign by the panel's president to drive down the number of these incidents at a department with a long history of controversial killings.
The proposed change is simple - just 31 words added to the 1,100 word use of force policy contained within the department's manual of policies and procedures: "Officers shall attempt to control an incident by using time, distance, communications and available resources in an effort to de-escalate the situation, whenever it is safe and reasonable to do so."
The department already trains officers extensively on how to defuse situations; it does so in the academy with fresh recruits and it conducts ongoing training as it did in the wake of the shootings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Ezell Ford in South L.A. in 2014.
But altering the use of force policy means Chief Charlie Beck and the five-member civilian board of police commissioners would mean officers could be disciplined or even fired for failing to try to de-escalate a situation before using deadly force.
Police union leaders are unhappy with the proposed policy change. They worry this stricter approach could prompt officers to hesitate in life-or-death situations. Union leaders also don’t like that it could expose more officers to disciplinary action.
Police Commission President Matthew Johnson has said officers should still use deadly force when confronted by armed suspects. But he also has said he would expect the new policy to result in fewer shootings and/or more officers being found out of policy because they didn’t try to de-escalate.
The policy falls short of the fundamental changes needed at the LAPD, said Black Lives Matter organizer Melina Abdullah. She pointed out more than one-third of people shot are mentally ill.
"So wouldn’t it be forward thinking if the police commission recommended, for instance, that mental health workers be the first responders to mental health crisis rather than police," said Abdullah.
Take Two's A Martinez spoke with KPCC's Frank Stoltze for more on the impetus behind the new policy and what it means for law enforcement in Los Angeles.