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Police Commission approves changes in LAPD’s policy on use of deadly force

Kate Mather Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles Police Commission on Tuesday unanimously decided to revamp the LAPD’s use-of-deadly-force policy and require the department to specifically evaluate whether officers could have done more to defuse tense encounters.

The changes could have a far-reaching impact on how the five-member Police Commission determines whether officers involved in fatal encounters were justified in using deadly force.

By including specific language about so-called de-escalation strategies in department policy, the police chief and commissioners will have to consider whether officers could have tried to avoid using deadly force.

The commission directed a working group, including the inspector general, the department, the police union and the city attorney’s office, to draft the specific language for the policy. The commission next must approve that language before the LAPD policy is formally changed.

Two commissioners – board President Matt Johnson and longtime commissioner Robert Saltzman – recommended the changes based on a 10-year review of LAPD policies and training made public last week by Inspector General Alex Bustamante.

The commissioners outlined a list of a dozen recommendations, including some that will enhance their oversight of LAPD training. The changes will require the LAPD to review its training to ensure there is “sufficient emphasis” on de-escalation, and to give commissioners “advance notice of any and all contemplated changes” to training related to de-escalation strategies, interactions with people believed to be mentally ill and the use of lethal and less-lethal weapons.

The commissioners’ move is the latest indicator of the panel’s increasingly hands-on approach in recent months to overseeing the 10,000-officer LAPD.

Police Chief Charlie Beck released a statement last week saying the department “has been committed to using de-escalation and crisis intervention techniques for many years.” LAPD officials, he said, “look forward to further incorporating these preservation-of-life principles in our constantly evolving training standards and policies.”

Policing experts and others, including Mayor Eric Garcetti, praised the commissioners’ move, saying the rule changes would serve as an important reminder to officers to try to defuse tense encounters.

But the president of the union representing rank-and-file officers blasted the proposal last week, saying it would expose officers to unfair scrutiny in their use of force, even if they were justified in pulling the trigger.

President Craig Lally said officers try to avoid firing their guns, but that isn’t always possible during a rapidly unfolding, dangerous situation.

“Whether it’s totally justified or not, they’re going to get reamed. They’re going to get second-guessed,” he said. “It’s a no-win situation for the officer.”

Earlier this month, the LAPD published its own 300-page report analyzing how and when officers used force in the past five years. The report showed that more than a third of the people shot by officers last year had documented signs of mental illness and that African Americans continued to account for a disproportionately high number of people shot.

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