LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) – The Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners approved new policies Tuesday that call on officers to use more de-escalation techniques before resorting to deadly force.
The changes come amid a heightened focus on police shootings, both in Los Angeles and across the country, and as the commission works to decrease the number of deadly encounters between officers and the public.
One of the changes, which will be added to the preamble of the department’s official use-of-force policy, states that 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 changes stem from a set of recommendations issued in March of last year by Commission President Matthew Johnson and then-Commissioner Robert Saltzman, and the measures will be considered when an officer is facing possible discipline for using force.
Police Chief Charlie Beck voiced support for the policy change, which he said was negotiated with the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union representing rank-and-file officers.
“It puts it right up front in the preamble, it talks about the reverence for human life, which has always been the platform upon which our use of force policies were built,” Beck said. “But it also makes sure that officers recognize that one of the things that we look at when we judge their shootings, is did we use the opportunity to de-escalate, if that was possible.”
Union leaders had voiced concern over the changes when they were first brought forward.
“I think not only is this a good policy that is well thought-out that will make changes in our use of force in practice and in training, but I think it’s also a model for collaboration,” Beck added.
The commission approved the policy change on a 5-0 vote over objections from activists who spoke out against the language changes. Some in attendance at the commission meeting were family members and close friends of people who have been killed in officer-involved shootings. Their emotions were raw and tempers high.
“It doesn’t get to the heart of the matter,” one man told the commission.
Many argued the significant additions are only included in the preamble to the policy and do not include any detailed breakdown or mention of de-escalation techniques in the section outlining factors that will be considered to determine the reasonableness of a use of force.
Commissioner Cynthia McClain-Hill raised concerns over the lack of any mention of de-escalation in the factors section, but still voted for the changes.
“I have to say that language matters,” she said.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the commission ruled that eight shootings by LAPD officers were unjustified in 2016, which was the highest number in at least 10 years, and it also found tactical errors in 50 percent of the 46 shootings it reviewed, which was up from 32 percent the year before and 16 percent 10 years ago.
Despite the increased rulings against officers, Black Lives Matter and other activist groups the last few years have argued that the department doesn’t do enough to avoid deadly encounters and organized frequent demonstrations against the commission and the LAPD.
Many of the speakers who expressed outrage at the department Tuesday over the policy changes said the amendments either didn’t go far enough, weren’t clear enough or would end up being toothless due to the significant changes only being in the preamble. Others were angry the public wasn’t engaged enough when the changes were considered.
“Changes to language in the use-of-force policy to incorporate the language of de-escalation will not change conditions on the ground,” said Jerry Dietrich of the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition.
Mayor Eric Garcetti issued a statement in support of the recommendations when they were put forward last year.
According to the LAPPL, the change simply formalizes a policy that has always been in place. A statement from the union read, in part:
“Preserving innocent lives and de-escalating dangerous situations has always been, and will continue to be, a core value for Los Angeles police officers. We train on these values at our academy and practice them every day in the service of our community.”
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