The new Los Angeles Police Department’s use of force policy approved by the Board of Police Commissioners has left many wanting.
“What changes,” asked activists, community organizers, and families of loved ones killed by police after Commissioners outlined policy revisions during their April 18 meeting. The effort is to encourage officers to de-escalate incidents, whenever it is safe and reasonable to do so.
“Basically, they just put it in the preamble (introductory statement). It’s not even in the policy, like the ‘We, the People of the United States,’ that part. So it’s even not policy itself. It is the fluffy language that you normally have before a policy to describe kind of what you’re hoping the policy will do,” said human rights attorney Nana Gyamfi of Justice Warriors for Black Lives.
Changing circumstances and the amount of time an officer has to determine the type and the amount of force that appears reasonable have been added as factors that will be used to determine the reasonableness of a use of force, according to LAPD Chief Charlie Beck.
The LAPD is working to further enhance its training, improve its analysis of use of force incidents, and changes in operational procedures to reduce the necessity to use force in both deadly and non-deadly encounters, Beck indicated in an April 18 press release.
“We realize that LAPD defines things in its own way, and de-escalation for them is not what it means for us,” Gyamfi said.
“For us, de-escalation means treat us like the White people. Let us have a gun in one hand, an ax in the other hand, and something else in our foot, and still go ahead and be cool and leave us alone. Let us walk out of there without any problems, versus dealing with our people in which we are assaulted, in which we are injured, in which we are killed,” she stated.
Gyamfi said the LAPD already has as part of their so-called policies mandates to de-escalate. For Blacks, however, that generally means use of gun, taser or baton.
“That’s how they de-escalate with us. That’s how they allegedly de-escalated with Keith Bursey and killed him, and then the Police Commission turned around that very same day, after giving all this lip service to de-escalation new policy, and found that his murder was within the policy of LAPD,” Gyamfi said.
A police officer shot the 31-year-old last June 10 after gang enforcement officers stopped a car he was in and said a man with a gun got out. His daughter has filed a wrongful death lawsuit.
“We as a people are going to have to create our own community tribunals of these cops,” Gyamfi said.
“We’ve been talking about that for some years now. How do we create our own space where we as the community, with whatever information we have, since the police refuse to give us full information, now in effect put the police on trial in our way, make own determination about whether their actions are within policy or not, and then broadcast our findings so that the whole world can know what these officers have or have not done,” Gyamfi said.
After giving Commissioners some of the background and process for the LAPD’s April 12 report on the policy, Assistant Chief Jorge Villegas discussed de-escalation training, among other things.
The changes stem from an Officer of Inspector General’s Ten-Year Overview of Categorical Use of Force Investigations, Policy, and Training report drafted on March 10, 2016.
During the LAPD’s presentation on the 2016 annual use of force year-end review, Chief Villegas announced the LAPD went from 48 officer-involved-shootings (OIS) in 2015 to 40 last year.
“We’re deeply concerned in terms of anytime anyone loses a life. We are fortunate in terms of the efforts that we put forward so that we can have a reduction in the actual officer-involved shootings and the actual fatalities” he said.
Police began seeing a steady decline in 1994, that happened to coincide with a crime decline and implementation of the Three Strikes Law, an officer indicated.
Some in the public seating area expressed outrage as the LAPD further reported. They spoke out after perceiving presenters were purposefully trying to skip over or hide the ethnic break down of use of force tallies.
“That’s f——d up! Let us see that,” yelled out one man.
“Those are people you’re talking about up there! Them ain’t numbers,” said another. “We ain’t holding on for nothing,” the young man said as Commission President Matthew Johnson tried to simmer things down.
“That’s people! That ain’t data! Them is people up there … not numbers. No! No! No! You don’t understand,” he argued.
Part of what set people off was a slide indicating that of the 41 total OIS incidents in 2016, 23 involved Hispanics (56%). They were 50 percent in 2015, according to the report.
Thirteen Blacks were involved in OIS incidents, which represented 32 percent of the 41 total, which was up seven percentage points, compared to 25 percent in 2015. And one White person was involved in an OIS incident, which represented two percent of the 41 total, accounting for a 15 percentage point decrease compared to 17 percent in 2015.
Johnson assured the public would be able to comment and raise questions about the report during the Commission’s May 2 meeting due to the massive 400-page report the LAPD provided that day.
“There is no deescalation policy. The four-page document is little more than rhetoric, which the department was compelled to issue as a result of the constant pressure of residents who are demanding change,” said Dr. Melina Abdullah, Black Lives Matter L.A. organizer and chair of the Pan African Studies Department at California State University Los Angeles.
“On the same day they approved the report, the Police Commission condoned the killing of Keith Bursey … by unanimously ruling his killing ‘in policy.’ Rhetoric of deescalation needs to translate into practices that keep our communities safe, otherwise it’s little more than a public relations effort…meaningless to the real lives of our people,” Abdullah said.