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De-escalation to be stressed in new use-of-force policy

LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Police Commission voted March 15 to move forward with the creation of use-of-force policies that emphasize de-escalation and the use of minimal force in encounters with the public.

A working group that will include the city attorney, LAPD officials and the police officers’ union will come up with specific language for the policies.

The changes, proposed as a set of 12 recommendations by Police Commission President Matthew Johnson and Commissioner Robert Saltzman, are aimed at emphasizing the need for officers to do what they can to de-escalate potentially violent confrontations.

“There are unfortunately incidents where an officer simply does not have the time necessary to de-escalate a situation,” Johnson said. “Sometimes the threat is too immediate, the potential of injury to others or to the officers too grave.”

But he added that “when there is time, we should never take a life when we have the option of resolving the situation without doing so.”

Johnson said that while de-escalation techniques and the concept of “preservation of life” may already be part of police training, the “adoption of these recommendations will further solidify the principles of de-escalation and minimal force into the department’s DNA.”

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck noted that it will be important to gain “buy-in” from the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union that represents his department’s police officers.

“There’s nothing here that I see where buy-in can’t be achieved with the right discussion and the right folks at the table,” Beck said. “My police union is very important to me. Sometimes they don’t think so, but they are, and I need to have them at the table.”

Beck said his job is to ensure safety for his officers, and he believes the Police Commission also understands “how difficult this job can be and that things do not always go as trained or as planned” and that allowances sometimes need to be reflected in policy.

He added that “we also want smart cops” who are “able to think critically” and react not only to “common-place scenarios, but are able to act in the extremes, which they will encounter in Los Angeles.”

The recommendations were presented in a report by LAPD Inspector General Alexander Bustamante, who outlined a 10-year history of the department’s use-of-force policy, including amendments made during that period and details on how use-of-force cases are investigated and adjudicated by the department.

One of the recommendations suggests the LAPD’s use-of-force policy be revised “to emphasize that deadly force shall only be exercised when reasonable alternatives have been exhausted or appear impracticable.

The revision in policy will also establish the expectation that officers redeploy to a position of tactical advantage when faced with a threat, whenever such redeployment can be reasonably accomplished in a manner consistent with officer and public safety.”

The recommendations also call on the department “to ensure that all investigations and evaluations of use-of-force incidents include written consideration of whether de-escalation was feasible and, for deadly force incidents, whether reasonable alternatives had been exhausted or appeared impracticable before the use of such force.”

Also included are recommendations calling for de-escalation to be included in all use-of-force training, and for the department to survey law enforcement agencies nationwide on their practices and training in regard to de-escalating use-of-force situations.

Police union officials last week criticized the recommendations as not including the input of officers.

Lou Turriaga, director of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, said he had concerns about the recommendations, which he said could put officers’ lives at risk.

“Clearly this is not a collaborative process by the Police Commission,” he said. “We are very concerned that the recommendations as written may jeopardize officer and community safety. We’re afraid that this policy does not take into account the split-second, life-and-death decisions police officers must make in the field.”

An internal LAPD report was released earlier this month that found LAPD officers used force nearly 2,000 times last year, including 21 cases in which people were fatally shot. More than one-third of the 38 people who were shot by police were mentally ill.