The civilian-led Los Angeles Police Commission voted yesterday to require officers to “de-escalate” all situations before resorting to deadly force.
“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,” reads the addition to the department’s use of force policy.
The change comes as part of a two-year, high-profile campaign to curb the number of police-involved shootings in the city, according to the Los Angeles Times.
A Use of Force report from the LAPD found that an average of 44.6 officer-involved shootings took place in LA between 2011 and 2015. Only Chicago has a higher rate of police shootings.
The department already trains officers in de-escalation tactics and mandates that all officers carry Tasers. But the new policy would allow Police Chief Charlie Beck and the five-member Police Commission to discipline or fire an officer if they determine not enough was done to defuse the situation.
Police Commission President Matthew Johnson has said officers should still use deadly force when confronted by armed suspects, but he also expects more officers to be found out of policy for failing to de-escalate tense situations.
LA police unions have objected to the change. Craig Lally, the president of Los Angeles Police Protective League, said the commissioners are giving in to politics.
“These officers, a lot of them are shutting down because their career might be in danger. They might lose their house, their family, their kids because they make one bad move,” Lally told the LA Times. “If you make a mistake, you’re going to…go through hell for it.”
But social justice activists aren’t happy either.
Greg Akili, a community organizer and former legislative staffer from South Los Angeles who has been active in the Black Lives Matter movement, told the Times he doesn’t believe the commission was willing to “rock the boat” to bring about substantial change.
Akili believes the current standard for justifying police shootings is too low, such as an officer thinking someone was going for his or her gun.
“That bar has to be raised,” Akili said.
Johnson has worked to balance both sides. He believes the commission has a “moral obligation to preserve life when we can,” but commissioners have also participated in ride-alongs with officers to learn what kinds of threats the police face every day, according to the Times.
“We’ve been second-guessed by the Police Protective League and we’ve been second-guessed by activists that come to our meetings,” he said. “I won’t allow myself to have my decisions governed by whether I’m making someone happy or making someone upset.”