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Police shootings, bias among topics at forum

By Dorany Pineda

Contributing Writer

LOS ANGELES — ACLU attorney Peter Bibring argued with a panel of law enforcement officials Oct. 15 that it is a major issue that a police officer hasn’t been prosecuted for shooting and killing a civilian in Los Angeles County since 2000.

The statement came during a community policing conference that drew more than 200 urban and community stakeholders and the media to discuss officer-involved shootings, racial profiling, police biases and public resources in the county. The conference’s purpose was to spark dialogues about the difficulties and trends in law enforcement and discuss ways to improve law enforcement’s relations with the people they serve.

“The reason that this is so important is that if there is no accountability or no justice for the most serious and egregious violations of human and civil rights, then you can’t trust that there is accountability and justice in the everyday workings of law enforcement,” Bibring said during the opening roundtable panel entitled “Today’s challenges, trends and opportunities in law enforcement.”

In response to Bibring’s comments, Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey, who was among the panelists, said: “I took an oath to follow the evidence and look at the facts and determine whether, when I file a case, whether it can be proven without a reasonable doubt. … As a D.A., you have an obligation to not deprive somebody of liberty unless you can prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Bibring and Lacey referenced the 2015 fatal shooting of Brendon Glenn, a homeless man who was shot and killed by a now-former Los Angeles police officer near the Venice boardwalk. The shooting of the unarmed, black homeless man was thrust into the spotlight after former Police Chief Charlie Beck said the officer should be charged. His remark was considered unprecedented and police critics and supporters wondered whether the case would be a watershed moment in the city.

But in March, prosecutors announced they wouldn’t criminally charge former Officer Clifford Proctor for killing Glenn, sparking outrage among groups like Black Lives Matter.

Panelists, who also included Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore; L.A. County Sheriff Jim McDonnell; federal public defender Hilary Potashner; and Scott Gordon, supervising judge of the county’s Superior Court criminal division; also discussed whether law enforcement is biased against minorities and the city’s low-income residents.

The response was a unanimous “yes.”

“I think there is bias against people of color in the community and I don’t think that anybody would truly contest that, it’s just a question of ‘Where do we go from there? What can we do about it?’” Potashner said.

It was a sentiment that McDonnell echoed.

“Human beings all have bias to some degree and our hope is that through training, through selection, through all of our processes that we can minimize the negative outcome that can come from a bias and that we acknowledge implicit bias where it exists and work very hard to ensure that our behavior does not reflect that…it’s an ongoing process,” McDonnell said.

The panelists, however, could not agree on the best solutions to eliminating racial and economic biases in prosecutors and law enforcement officials.

Lacey suggested “having diverse voices at the table and recruiting people of color to be police officers and to be prosecutors is the way to go. … Perhaps through that we will be able to more successfully counteract the biases that exist in the justice system.”

As of April 2017, county officers are mandated to complete a one-hour Implicit Bias and Cultural Competency training, which many felt was insufficient.

Another panel titled “Why are they always calling the cops on me?” focused on the growing trend of someone calling 911 on a person or group, usually African Americans, for innocuous behavior.

It’s what Addie Rolnick, associate professor of law at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, calls “indirect violence.”

“Private citizens have the option of calling the police and delegating the responsibility for responding, assessing and using violence to the police instead of doing it [themselves],” she said, which has no legal repercussions for the caller. When law enforcement responds with violence, it becomes a form of disciplining people, she added.

When residents are in need of authoritative support and aren’t in life-threatening situations, panelists Isaac Bryan from UCLA’s Million Dollar Hoods; 911 Operator Marsha Myers; and Rolnick all agreed that the best course of action is not to call the police.

“I think there needs to be an alternative and it needs to be publicized what that alternative is to always calling the police,” Myers said.

Moderator and vice chair of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Civilian Oversight Commission Priscilla Ocen mentioned the idea of “using non-sworn community relations officers” to deal with issues like public ticketing, people littering or someone walking on the side of a highway. Additionally, she and the panelists believe that police officers need better and more thorough de-escalation training.

Though solutions to persistent and current challenges within law enforcement and the criminal justice system were not easily established, panelists agreed that more response resources were needed for civilians besides calling the police and that more training was needed for officers.