By Elizabeth Chou, Los Angeles Daily News
The Los Angeles Police Commission adopted a revised use-of-force policy Tuesday that calls on officers to avoid resorting to deadly force by de-escalating, or ramping down the tension in interactions with the public.The policy has the backing of the union representing the Los Angeles Police Department’s more than 8,000 rank-and-file officers.
LAPD officials also said the department incorporated recommendations by the American Civil Liberties Union to emphasize de-escalation, but Commissioner Cynthia McClain-Hill questioned whether the added de-escalation concepts are laid out clearly enough in the policy.
She said it “troubles me” that de-escalation is not talked about in the policy in specific terms, noting that the revisions were only added to the preamble and not to other parts of the police manual.
The department and commission, the citizen oversight body for the LAPD, uses the policy to determine if an officer acted properly and ultimately whether discipline needs to be meted out.
McClain-Hill, who ultimately supported the policy, said she would prefer that de-escalation “(not be) aspirationally referred to but specifically required.”
Several members of the public who commented at Tuesday’s police commission meeting derided the revisions as superficial, with one saying it is akin to putting “lipstick on a pig,” and another saying it is unclear on how officers should act in the field.
Others questioned some of the deaths in 2016 at the hands of police officers, including the shooting of 18-year-old Carnell Snell and 16-year-old Daniel Perez in October, 31-year-old Keith Bursey Jr. in June, and 18-year-old Richard Risher in July — almost all of whom are black or Latino.
Bursey’s grandmother, Mary Williams, spoke to the commission, urging the panel to closely investigate the shooting of her grandson.
Bursey, she said, “was not a threat, he didn’t have a weapon on him,” and was running away when he was shot. She said she believes the officer who shot him “refused to use anything but deadly force.”
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The LAPD also released a 400-page report detailing year-end statistics on police shootings and other types of force for 2016, which showed:
• Five people killed by police gunfire were black, 12 were Latino, and one was white, according to the report, which was presented to the police commission. The ethnicity of one additional person killed was labeled “other.”
• Shootings, among the most serious types of police force, fell last year, though the figures fluctuate from year to year.
• Police shootings were down 17 percent, from 48 in 2015 to 40 in 2016, according to the year-end figures in the report. There was an even steeper drop in the number of cases in which police gunfire hit someone, with that number falling 29 percent, from 38 to 27 instances. Additionally, eight people died in police custody, according to the end-of-year report.
• The injuries that resulted from serious types of use-of-force include four people hurt by police canines, one by chokehold, two from a head strike. Another nine people were injured due to police force that resulted in hospitalization, according figures in the report.
While the number of serious cases fell, the overall number of uses of force by police, including the 1,925 cases categorized as involving “less-lethal” force, was similar to what it was the previous year. The overall figure inched up to 2,011, from 1,924 in 2015. However, officials said the number of interactions between the public and the police also increased.
LAPD officials said that with the recent focus on de-escalation, and now the adoption of the revised policy and training programs, the focus is on minimizing the number of police shootings and the use of deadly force. Hoping to show some effort has already been made, LAPD officials reported to the commission Tuesday that last year there was more widespread use among officers of so-called “less-lethal” weapons, such as stun guns, beanbags, pepper sprays, impact launchers and batons.