LOS ANGELES — In response to police violence in California, a recently launched statewide alliance of organizations called the Justice Teams Network is hoping to influence legislation that will hold members of law enforcement accountable for using deadly force.
The network will focus on a public information campaign around the Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights, or LEOBor, which leaders are calling “the single largest obstacle to police accountability.”
“The Police Officer’s Bill of Rights gives officers great shelter in terms of certain things,” said retired Los Angeles Police Department Sgt. Cheryl Dorsey. “It prohibits, for instance, them being named personally liable in the event of a litigation against the police department.
“In other words, the officers don’t have any financial responsibility should there be some kind of judgment or settlement made,” she said.
Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, helped launch the coalition May 2 at the Hall of Justice in downtown Los Angeles. With her were organization representatives of Black Lives Matter L.A., Dignity and Power Now, White People for Black Lives and the Brown Berets, among others. Together, they urged Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey to prosecute police officers for using unnecessary deadly force.
Lacey has been criticized by local activists and community members for not indicting officers involved in deadly shootings. In March, Lacey announced that no charges would be filed against a former police officer who killed Brendon Glenn, an unarmed black man, near the Venice Beach boardwalk in 2015, even though Police Chief Charlie Beck urged her to press charges.
Though not surprising to many, the decision sparked immediate backlash against Lacey and the D.A.’s office, which hasn’t charged a police officer in an on-duty shooting case in nearly 20 years.
But as long as the decision to prosecute police officers is up to Lacey and the D.A.’s office, no one will ever be indicted, Dorsey said.
“I think there needs to be an independent prosecutor because D.A. Lacey has, I believe, a symbiotic relationship with the LAPD. … We deal with the D.A.s office as police officers on a daily basis … and I think there’s a reluctance in a lot of cases to prosecute a police officer,” Dorsey said.
That reluctance is what Cullors and others intend to change, particularly in high-profile shootings across the state.
“With Stephon Clark’s murder by 20 police bullets in Sacramento on March 18 and Sahleem Tindle’s murder from three bullets to the back on January 3 in Oakland, the case for retribution for officers who break the law is again at the top of the agenda,” Cullors said in a press release.
“Despite the outrage, we’re not seeing change in behavior, nor are officers of the state being held accountable because they are being protected by the state. This is because police officers have the licence to kill with impunity,” Cullors added. “The added layer of rights granted under the Police Officer’s Bill of Rights makes it practically impossible to investigate officers and hold them accountable. It remains the major obstacle to justice.”
James E. Crawford, a retired officer from the Detroit Police Department, said that law enforcement officials have a certain amount of entitlement. As a result, there’s often “no fear of being prosecuted or going to jail for what they do.”
Crawford pointed to the 1989 Graham vs. Connor U.S. Supreme Court Case, which justifies deadly force by police officers if they feel their life is in danger, even if no weapon is seen. “And officers,” he said “are just wearing that out.”
With the launch of Justice Teams Network, activists hope to reform and create state legislation that will reduce fatal force and increase officer accountability.
“In California, police consistently shoot over 100 people every year,” Cat Brooks, the coalition’s executive director, said in the press release. “Last year in the United States, nearly 1,200 people were killed by police officers. These deaths destroy families and rip apart communities while law enforcement responsible for even the most egregious cases are rarely, if ever, held accountable. This needs to stop.”