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Police union calls LAPD's new Preservation of Life medal 'a terrible idea'

Police union calls LAPD's new Preservation of Life medal 'a terrible idea'
President Barack Obama shakes hands with Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck during a criminal justice reform forum in Washington on Oct. 22. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press)

Los Angeles police Chief Charlie Beck's comments didn't draw much attention -- at first.

In his weekly remarks to the Police Commission on Tuesday, the chief announced that the LAPD would award a new medal this year to officers who showed "commendable restraint" during situations where they might otherwise use deadly force.

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The Preservation of Life medal, Beck said, would be a top department honor, on the same level as the prestigious Medal of Valor. During a time of intense national scrutiny of how police officers use deadly force, Beck said, he wanted to "recognize the many times that Los Angeles police officers are able to save lives by their restraint."

But not everyone agreed with the chief's move. The union that represents rank-and-file officers published a blog post later this week calling the award a "terrible idea that will put officers in even more danger."

"This award will prioritize the lives of suspected criminals over the lives of LAPD officers, and goes against the core foundation of an officer's training," the post read. "What we don't want to see is a flag-draped coffin and the chief speaking at an officer's funeral stating, 'This brave officer will be awarded the Preservation of Life medal.'"

The union's board of directors said it shared concerns over the increase in shootings by LAPD officers, but emphasized that officers were trained to use deadly force only when there was no other option. The award, the board said, suggested to officers that they could be "penalized for resorting to an appropriate, lawful use of force."

"The last thing an LAPD officer wants to do is harm, or worse yet, take the life of a suspect," the union said. "Sometimes, however, force is needed to save multiple lives. That is the reality of police work."

A Los Angeles Police Department spokesman declined to comment Friday on the union's remarks.

Beck on Tuesday noted two recent situations in which he said police avoided using deadly force, including one a few weeks ago when officers assigned to the Metropolitan Division were in a "wrestling match" with a person armed with a sawed-off rifle.

"It could have easily been an incident where deadly force was deployed, but it was not," Beck said.

Shortly after the chief's announcement, the president of the Police Commission -- the civilian board that oversees the LAPD -- unveiled an aggressive effort to better understand and reduce the number of instances when LAPD officers use force.

Commission President Matt Johnson said LAPD officers have opened fire 45 times this year, compared with 23 instances during the same period in 2014, a trend he called an "alarming development." Nineteen people have been killed by police gunfire, including a man shot earlier this week.

Johnson requested an extensive analysis spanning the last decade of instances in which police have used force and how that compares to other major police departments. He also asked for reviews of the LAPD's new body cameras, training and less lethal equipment, like Tasers and bean-bag shotguns.

"Despite the progress the LAPD has made, we are living in challenging times," Johnson said. "My goal is to use these challenges as turning points and make the LAPD the model for the entire nation."

Follow @katemather for more LAPD news.

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