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New Policy on LAPD Use of Force Aims to Reduce Shootings

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LAPD officers block the on ramp to the 101 South at the corner of Los Angeles and Aliso Street in November 2016. | Photo: Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

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. 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 said.

"This is a very difficult subject that has a number of stakeholders with very strong opinions. And for all of us to be able to come together and to work through this and to take the time to make something that the union agrees with, the commission agrees with and the department's management agrees with is a significant step forward," according to the chief.

According to the LAPPL, the change simply formalizes a policy that has always been in place.

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"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," according to the union. "We worked hard to formalize these values into a department policy that will provide for the ability of police officers to protect their personal safety and the safety of innocent bystanders."

The commission approved the policy change on a 5-0 vote over objections from activists who spoke out against the language changes. 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.

McClain-Hill did make a motion that the commission and department continue to work to include explicit language about de-escalation in the sections of the policy that reference deadly force, which was also approved.

Pete White of the Los Angeles Community Action Network was one of more than a dozen speakers who voiced opposition to the language used in the changes.

"Why did the department highlight de-escalation in the preamble but left it out of the standards that can be evaluated? That would be a question that you should go back to, Cynthia, because you are very clear that if you put it in the preamble, the preamble ain't policy," White said.  "It means nothing when you get behind the doors and begin to evaluate our murders."

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.