The call last Friday by two Los Angeles Police Commissioners to significantly change LAPD use of force policy is both dangerous and not the first time law enforcement will hear these demands. Whether agencies and leaders cave in to these short sighted and dangerous demands will determine if law enforcement will be capable of protecting themselves and the public for years to come.
The recommendation for LAPD to specifically evaluate whether officers could have done more to defuse tense encounters and to seek ways to avoid using significant force whenever possible sounds great on paper but is a dangerous and deadly road to disaster for law enforcement that follows it.
LAPD and others want additional requirements to be evaluated when officers use deadly force including if the officer used “de-escalation” strategies and whether officers could have tried to avoid using deadly force.
While it sounds and feels good, those requirements are not part of the signature Supreme Court Case that governs every use of force encounter in American Law Enforcement, Graham v. Connor (1989) and there are real reasons the court didn’t address it. Those demands place additional disadvantages on the police officer having to make a “split second” decision for their life.
What Is This About
The talk of changing the rules without the courts didn’t just now happen in Los Angeles. It was prompted and grown out of the lie that was Ferguson. The Department of Justice ran to Ferguson, Missouri and all but promised the protesters that they would prosecute the officer involved but there turned out to be a small problem. The law of the land (Graham v. Connor) clearly stated that Officer Darren Wilson did nothing wrong. The “Hands up…Don’t shoot” mantra was a lie and when the investigation was completed by that same Justice Department, they found that Darren acted within his legal scope as a police officer.
How could this be? Why couldn’t this prosecution occur and in other shootings, the same thing happened. Officers would use deadly force to protect their life and the protesters would scream for prosecution and when the investigation was complete, an indictment was impossible.
Every police officer in America should be thankful that grand juries have to follow the law and not what politicians think.
In fact, the Los Angeles Times pointed out that in six counties, over 2000 suspects had been shot my law enforcement since 2004 but only one officer was prosecuted. Apparently, this is unacceptable and something must be done!
Why Is This Dangerous?
This is what is being done. Despite the United States Supreme Court, there is a large atempt to change the rules. It started with Ferguson and PERF quickly picked up the mantle. The Michael Brown incident should have never occurred PERF surmised. Yes, Brown was walking in the middle of the street after committing a violent robbery and yes Officer Darren Wilson drove up to him (not knowing the robbery occurred) and asked him to get out of the roadway which caused Brown to attack Wilson and the ensuing altercation would end in the use of deadly force.
The question was recently asked at a PERF Meeting on how Officer Wilson should have handled this violent felon.
It’s simple they stated. Wilson should have never approached him walking down the middle of the street. It was that initial encounter that ultimately caused the use of deadly force.
Yes, soak that in for a minute. This is the ideology that follows what those in LAPD, PERF and others want our policy to reflect. It sounds innocent but it is dangerous and it is the only way “they” get what they want. More cop indictments!
How Will This be Accomplished
Some are reading this and you think, this will never happen in my agency. I will warn you about that thinking. The playbook is already there and the players are lining up. The White House, PERF, DOJ and some major city chiefs are on the team now and they are recruiting and once they grab CALEA or IACP, common sense will be lost. How will they do this?
It’s About the Money
They have done it before and they will do it again. Several years ago the government gave a mandate to law enforcement. They had to wear ANSI Level II Vests when conducting traffic management on federally funded highways. It was an unfunded mandate and when agencies protested that they might not be able to afford the change the government simply said that they would restrict highway money from their communities….millions of it. A few years ago, the government made it mandatory for law enforcement to wear ballistic vests. If you did not comply, any grant funds you used to purchase those vests would be gone
Those mandates make law enforcement safer. Changing use of force standards make it more dangerous.
There will be significant pressure on agencies and leaders to modify use of force policy despite the courts not supporting that change. The general budgets in most agencies almost all go towards personnel costs. There is a huge reliance on those agencies to use government grants to pay for needed equipment and resources. The Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grant is just one funding mechanism and it awards close to 300 million dollars a year to law enforcement agencies. I know agencies that wouldn’t have basic equipment if it wasn’t for this grant. Imagine if you were a chief and all you have to do to continue to receiving this grant is to change a couple of sentences in your use of force policy? What if CALEA threatens to not certify your agency if your policy does not reflect these changes? For even those that agree with not changing the rules, the decision is not as easy as it may seem.
What Must Be Done
Agencies and their leaders must first recognize that this is coming and they must push back but you can only push back if your closet is in order. We suggest the following:
- Make sure your policies are in order. We recommend Lexipol as an excellent resource. They have a team of lawyers that will update your policy as soon as it is needed.
- Train, Train and Train more. Your officers need to be qualifying with their handgun every quarter and their training should consist of scenario based, stress inoculation training. Additional training on de-escalation and the mentally ill is a must.
- You need to get your finances in order. It’s not a matter of if this is going to happen, it’s going to happen. If you want to keep your officers as safe as possible, then say goodbye to your grant money. Work within your current budget and form a foundation so your citizens can donate needed equipment, etc. to your officers.
- You should educate your community. Most citizens would not see an issue with what PERF is advocating and LAPD is looking at. We recommend educating your citizens, community leaders and politicians. That can take many forms but many agencies put together one day seminars or citizen police academies to help others understand.
It Takes Real Leadership
The next decade in law enforcement will be the most important we have ever seen. The time is over for weak, spineless leaders in the profession. Today law enforcement is the most trained, professional and educated the country has ever known. Our leadership needs to understand that, maintain that and rise up to the challenges that are already here.
Travis Yates is a writer and editor at Law Officer. An ILEETA Trainer of the Year, his Seminars in Risk Management & Officer Safety have been taught across the United States & Canada. Major Yates is a current Doctoral Student in Strategic Leadership and is a graduate of the FBI National Academy. He is the Director of Training for Law Officer (www.lawofficer.com) and the Founder of the Courageous Leadership Institute (www.courageousleader.org), providing leadership consulting and training to law enforcement around the world.