Since Sunday, Sept. 5, when Rampart-area bicycle officers were involved in a shooting that claimed the life of Manuel Jaminez, there have been many inaccurate reports of what occurred. Getting to the facts of what happened that day is critically important, both for the LAPD and the community. But we have to be patient. A thorough and transparent investigation is necessary to build trust in the Police Department, and that will take time.
I will make it a priority, however, to keep the community informed about the process as we go, and we will be as transparent as possible in explaining how we investigate such an incident. I am also committed to providing as much detail as I am able to release about the facts of the investigation, and to providing a sense of understanding of the law and our department policy.
No Los Angeles Police Department officer ever comes to work with the intention of taking a human life. Officers are trained to protect lives — their own as well as the lives of the public we serve. When forced to make split-second, life-or-death decisions under stressful situations, officers rely on their training and what the law allows when using deadly force. LAPD officers are not taught to “shoot to kill,” as has been suggested, but rather to fire their weapons only to stop deadly threats and to keep themselves and the public safe.
The department is constantly looking for ways to improve its policies and training. In 2009, after completing a thorough and careful review of our use-of-force policy, we made significant revisions. Department personnel now have a policy that is concise, easily understood and consistent with prevailing law and industry best-policing practices.
Our policy was designed to conform to a standard laid out by the Supreme Court in the 1989 case Graham vs. Connor. In that case, involving the detention and injury of a diabetic man who police thought was behaving oddly, the court ruled that an officer’s response must be evaluated by whether it was “objectively reasonable” in light of what was observed. LAPD officers are taught to evaluate a suspect’s behavior and apply the “reasonable” standard, looking, for example, at the severity of the crime a suspect is committing or about to commit, and whether it is reasonable to conclude that the suspect’s behavior might cause serious injury to an officer or another person. If a suspect’s behavior is likely to cause serious bodily injury or death, an officer can, by law and under LAPD policy, use deadly force.
It is too early for anyone to judge or to draw conclusions about what happened on Sept. 5. We are currently examining the totality of the circumstances involved and reasonableness at the time of the incident — without the 20/20 vision of hindsight. To do that, we are interviewing the involved officers and dozens of witnesses, and examining physical evidence, including the knife used by the suspect.
LAPD recruits are well trained in the proper use of force. They study the law and department policy on the subject from the time they enter the Police Academy. They receive 10 hours of classroom instruction and 12 hours in a simulator specific to the policy, and many more hours examining practical application. In addition, there are several scenario-based training sessions that apply to the use-of-force policy.
And the training doesn’t end with graduation. Officers review the policy in many of the department’s in-service schools and in all courses offered for those wanting to be promoted. LAPD officers also receive annual online training and are tested on the use-of-force policy while training on a force-option simulator.
If an officer uses force against a suspect, the incident is investigated by the LAPD’s Force Investigation Division, but also by outside entities. The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office conducts its own investigation, and the Office of the Inspector General monitors the police investigation and conducts an independent review of the facts. Both entities are completely separate from the department and do not report to me.
An investigation into the use of deadly force is the most exhaustive type of examination the LAPD does. Because of the complexities involved, investigations may take several months to complete, but I have directed my staff to make sure that our analysis of the Jaminez shooting is given high priority.
Once completed, I will review the case and decide whether I believe the officer’s use of deadly force was within department policy and the law. I will then present my findings and recommendations to the Board of Police Commissioners. The inspector general will submit its independent findings and recommendations to the commission. The Police Commission then makes the final decision as to whether or not the shooting falls within the department’s policy.
Ultimately, an officer’s work is about saving lives. But if, in the course of duty, an officer uses force and takes the life of another, the LAPD can be trusted to investigate thoroughly and to be transparent in its conclusions about whether the force was necessary. That is my pledge to the city.
Charlie Beck is chief of the Los Angeles Police Department. A version of this article appeared in La Opinion.