The Los Angeles Police Department will now require officers who fire their guns on the job to complete training before they return to the field and meet with department psychologists more often.
The changes, approved by the Los Angeles Police Commission on Tuesday, represent a subtle but significant shift in how the LAPD treats officers after shootings.
The civilian board directed top brass last fall to take a fresh look at the training, psychological help and other support officers receive after shootings. The request was inspired in part by a report prepared for the commission that showed officers at other police agencies often spent more time away from work, in training and with a mental health professional after firing their weapons.
Although police commissioners praised the department for the changes put forth Tuesday, some asked for more. Commission President Matt Johnson said he would like to see more mandatory counseling sessions for officers before they return to work and questioned whether they should be kept out of the field longer.
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck typically decides whether to return an officer to the field after what’s known as a 72-hour briefing, where he reviews the initial investigation into the encounter, the officer’s history and whether the officer has been cleared by a department psychologist.
“Frankly, I think that 72 hours is just too short a period after someone has been in a traumatic event, like an officer-involved shooting, to be back in the field,” Johnson said. “I think there should be a longer period of time and a couple of sessions with a counselor to make sure that person is OK and ready to be back.”
Beck said he would direct the department’s psychologists to prepare a report on the 72-hour time frame and whether there were suitable alternatives, such as extending the waiting period.
“Every individual is different. I’m confident that many people are ready to return in that amount of time, but some may not be,” Beck said after the meeting. “We want to do the right thing for our police officers. We want to keep them safe. We want to keep them mentally sound.”
Under the new approach approved Tuesday, officers must meet with a psychologist two additional times, although officials said the first session would be a few weeks after the shooting and the second a few months after it. Psychologists may still instruct officers to attend extra sessions, officials said. Officers will also be able to take part in a new voluntary program in which they meet with others who have fired their guns on duty.
In addition, officers will not be able to return to the field until they have completed what’s called a general training update — a refresher course that includes a review of LAPD policy and real-life scenarios that could lead to deadly force. Until now, officers could go back before they finished that training.