It's unlikely that police officers in dangerous, life-or-death situations where every second matters will have much time left over to think about winning a medal. But that doesn't mean that the creation of the Preservation of Life award, announced Tuesday by Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck, is a bad idea.
The purpose of the new prize, as Beck explained it, is to celebrate situations in which deadly force could have been used by officers — but wasn't. That's particularly important at a time when a series of officer-involved shootings of unarmed black men, including Ezell Ford in L.A. last year, has started a national conversation about race and policing.
Beck was inspired by an incident earlier this month in which Metro officers wrestling with a man holding a sawed-off shotgun managed to subdue him without shooting him, even after the shotgun was discharged. The chief wanted a way to recognize officers who resolve dangerous situation without killing the suspect. We heartily approve.
Of course, an award alone won't immediately change public opinion or police behavior. But it's a step in the right direction. What's more, the announcement at Tuesday's Police Commission meeting was just one manifestation of the attention Beck and other L.A. officials have been paying recently to the public's concerns about deadly encounters between officers and suspects.
At the meeting, Beck described the details of a fatal officer-involved shooting on Monday in Lake Balboa, and he reported statistics on the use of force and how many of the suspects involved were African American. This is new. In recent years, Beck typically hasn't talked about shootings by officers during his weekly report to the commission (because such shootings had been way down, at least until this year).
These actions and others, such as the expansion of training for police officers in how to de-escalate tense situations, suggest that Beck and Mayor Eric Garcetti are taking seriously complaints from the public about unnecessary use of force. After a slow start, Garcetti has called on Beck and Matt Johnson, a recent appointee to the commission, to respond. To their credit, they have.
Johnson, who is African American, outlined a plan Tuesday to address the "crisis in confidence" in police among city's minority communities stemming from the skyrocketing rate of officer-involved shootings. (Monday's shooting was the 34th this year; by contrast, in all of 2014, officers shot 26 people.) Johnson is asking the department and its inspector general for reports and audits examining the use of force.
Given the violent nature of our society and easy availability of firearms, use of force incidents are not about to disappear. But we like the idea of a department that puts a premium on preserving life. That's an award-winning idea.