Readers React

Police need better ways to handle confrontations with the homeless

To the editor: I live in downtown L.A. I work in downtown L.A. It seems every week there is a new restaurant opening, a new office tower breaking ground. But the issue of poverty in skid row is too often conveniently overlooked. ("In long-simmering skid row, fatal shooting turns tension up a notch," March 2)

It is a well-known fact that many in skid row suffer not only the cruelty of poverty, but also addictive disorders and other forms of mental illness. Every week on the streets of downtown, we encounter these faces of poverty and despair.

I understand the police have a difficult job to do in maintaining order, but there simply must be a better way to handle confrontations like the one that occurred Sunday. And for our community at large, there must be a more just and humane way of handling the poor and mentally ill than dumping them on side streets of our city.

Oliver Cutshaw, Los Angeles

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To the editor: So Los Angeles again adds to the nation's story line about the police killing a man in questionable circumstances. My biggest puzzlement is over the initial methods used to contain the suspect.

In Ferguson, Mo., the police officer apparently drove alongside the suspect and tried to interact with him through the car window and found himself in a fight in an awkward space. So he got out of the vehicle and ended up in a situation where he felt his life was threatened.

Watching the video that captures the confrontation Sunday between several LAPD officers and a homeless man on skid row, we see several cops swoop in and try to subdue the suspect. They failed, and the homeless man was shot and killed.

I know that cops put their lives on the line, and I know that in today's America they have to assume a suspect may have a gun. But surely, police forces can develop better containment and arrest processes that hopefully do not get to the point where a cop feels his or her life is threatened.

Peter Smith, Culver City

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To the editor: Decades ago, despite then-Chief Daryl Gates' protests, the L.A. Police Commission took away the bar arm and choke hold as a tool for controlling or subduing violent suspects. The commission took away a meaningful tool just because a few minority suspects who were on drugs or were severely obese had died.

Now, use of the baton or Taser are the only alternatives to deadly force. Problem is, many violent suspects simply do not feel pain, and the irregularly shaped baton is unwieldy and police can easily lose control of it.

Many skid row residents are either mentally unstable, using drugs or wanted for crimes. In many cases, they know little fear of the police and will fight viciously, particularly when they know the police are severely hampered by limitations on the use of force.

The bar arm or choke hold takes effect almost immediately; its return to use needs to be seriously considered. This will reduce shootings.

Alan V. Weinberg, Woodland Hills

The writer is a retired LAPD officer.

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To the editor: The LAPD cannot be trusted to carry out a fair investigation into the killing of another unarmed person. The urge to absolve, whitewash, justify or otherwise excuse excessive use of deadly force by officers could be too great to resist.

Chief Charlie Beck should ask an outside agency to handle all aspects of fact finding.

Mel Frohman, Los Angeles

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