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Police Move to Curb Car Shootings

Times Staff Writer

Hoping to stem a series of shootings in which his officers have fired into moving cars, Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton said Wednesday that new training videos will direct officers who find themselves in the path of a vehicle to “get out of the way” rather than open fire.

The training comes nearly two months after the Los Angeles Police Commission adopted a stricter policy covering such shootings, saying officers may fire at a moving vehicle only if they feel their lives or those of bystanders are at risk.

But the video goes a step further, instructing officers to make it their first priority to get out of harm’s way rather than stand in place and use their weapons.

“The focus is really on the officers not to put themselves in a situation tactically where they become a victim, in which their only resort is a last resort and that’s to shoot,” Bratton said. “What it really comes down to, and this is to be very specifically addressed in the training, is ‘get out the way.’ ”

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Bratton suggested that officers should think defensively rather than offensively in such situations.

“If anything, I think I’m reducing the potential for them to be victims both in terms of a crime but also the emotions that come about when they sometimes find themselves having to act,” he said.

The Police Commission tightened the shooting rules after the Feb. 6 fatal shooting by an LAPD officer of 13-year-old Devin Brown. The teenager led police on a short chase before allegedly backing his car toward the officer, who opened fire. The youth was unarmed and the car was later determined to be stolen.

On Tuesday, three LAPD officers in South Los Angeles fired a dozen rounds at an unarmed robbery suspect who backed toward them following a brief pursuit.

Bratton declined to discussed details of that incident, which is under investigation to determine why the officers opened fire and whether the shooting was within department policies. The Devin Brown case is also under investigation.

Bratton has said reducing the number of such shootings is a priority. His effort is part of a larger campaign to curtail many types of pursuits, which Bratton considers to often not be worth the risk to officers and bystanders.

Since 1985, LAPD officers have shot at moving cars about half a dozen times each year, killing 25 people and injuring at least 30, according to a Times review of police records last year. That review found that 90% of the shootings resulted in a reprimand or retraining.

Bratton had called for an updated policy a year ago after his officers shot and killed a robbery suspect who had backed toward them slowly after a 90-minute chase that ended in Santa Monica. That shooting was shown by TV stations taping the pursuit from helicopters.

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Geoffrey Alpert, a University of South Carolina professor knowledgeable in police use-of-force policies, said the LAPD’s new training makes sense. He said it would help officers change their mind-sets when confronted with such a situation.

“It’s going to save the lives of the officers and it’s going to save the lives of suspects,” Alpert said. “It updates Los Angeles into what is considered a best practice in law enforcement.”

The tape will be shown in the coming days and weeks in roll calls across the 9,200-member department as part of an ongoing training effort. In addition, Bratton said, officers will undergo intensive “scenario-based training” to help them better react to situations involving moving vehicles.

The chief, however, warned that it would take until the end of the year for all officers to receive the complete training.

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Police are releasing few details about Tuesday’s shooting.

Officials identified the officers involved as Jose Bonilla, 30, with five years on the force; Francisco Diaz, 33, a nine-year veteran; and Eric Rose, 30, with five years on the force.

The suspect, identified as Oscar Leyva, 30, was hit once by gunfire. He was listed in serious condition at California Hospital Medical Center in downtown Los Angeles.


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