The Los Angeles Police Commission is considering significant changes in the way the LAPD handles shootings by officers, including releasing information to the public more quickly and expanding training designed to reduce the number of shootings.
The proposals, which the civilian panel will weigh next week, include seeking public opinion on releasing videos from those shootings, ensuring the LAPD provides accurate information about the incidents and adding more role-playing scenarios to help officers practice defusing tense encounters without firing their guns.
The proposals come after the commission's inspector general completed an extensive study, made public Friday, looking at how other major departments deal with police shootings. The report found that some provide the public with more details faster and have embraced training based on real-world scenarios.
How officers use force and how departments share information about deadly encounters are two of the most scrutinized issues in modern-day policing, drawing fresh attention this summer after a series of deadly police shootings across the country.
Many law enforcement agencies have traditionally resisted releasing video evidence — including footage from cameras worn by officers or in their patrol cars — while investigations are under way. But in recent months, police in Fresno, El Cajon and Charlotte, N.C., bowed to pressure and made videos of contentious shootings public.
The LAPD followed suit this week after the controversial shooting of Carnell Snell Jr. prompted protests that stretched from South L.A. to the mayor's Windsor Square home. In an unprecedented move, the LAPD released security video showing the 18-year-old holding a gun moments before he was fatally shot.
Friday's recommendations from two police commissioners — Sandra Figueroa-Villa and Matt Johnson — come as the civilian board has been pushing the department to be more transparent and to find ways to minimize officers' use of deadly force.
"We must constantly re-evaluate what we are doing and be willing to be self-critical so that we are always moving forward," said Johnson, the board's president. "These recommendations represent the desire to improve."
The report and its proposals have long been in the works. Last fall, the Police Commission directed its inspector general, Alex Bustamante, to compare the LAPD's policies, training and investigations regarding use of force with four other major agencies that have recently made changes to try to reduce force incidents.
Eleven months later, the result was a 33-page analysis also looking at how police in L.A., Dallas, Las Vegas, Washington, D.C., and San Diego address officers who fire their weapons, emphasize ways officers can try to avoid using force, and share information — including video — with the public.
The report notes that the information the LAPD initially provides about police shootings is "generally limited" to the basics: the condition of the person shot, the time and location of the shooting, why the officers were in the area and whether any weapons were found. It is not unusual for the department to take weeks before releasing the names of officers who fire their weapons.
Police in Las Vegas, however, quickly post short video statements about shootings on YouTube. About 48 hours later, the department releases the name, rank, age and length of tenure of the officers involved. Within the week, police give reporters an in-depth briefing that includes what happened in the moments before a shooting, photographs from the scene and audio from 911 calls. They also release any video collected, including footage from body cameras worn by officers.
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck has generally resisted releasing those videos outside of court, citing concerns over victim privacy and the need to protect investigations. He made a rare exception in Snell's shooting, citing concerns over public safety and his desire to clear up what he called "significant misinformation" in the case.
Though the LAPD must abide by a different public records law than police in Nevada, the report noted that departments within California take different approaches to disclosing information.
For example, the report notes, some make 911 tapes and booking photos public. (The LAPD does not.) And officials in Fresno and Sacramento recently released footage from body or patrol car cameras that captured controversial shootings by police.
The report's recommendations formalized remarks Johnson made earlier in the week, when he called for a review of the LAPD's policy for releasing video. He and Figueroa-Villa directed the department to start a "comprehensive process" for gathering public feedback on that policy, including community forums, online questionnaires and focus groups.
If the proposals are approved, a draft set of rules would then be posted online for 30 days. When the department prepares a revised video release policy for the commission to review, it would include an overview of how the public's feedback was incorporated.
The commissioners also called on the department to determine what other information about police shootings could be released quickly and develop rules to ensure that information is accurate.
The proposals by Johnson and Figueroa-Villa would require the department to reexamine how it treats officers after they use deadly force. The LAPD should provide more support for officers as the investigation into their actions unfolds and must provide them with additional "reality-based" training before they go back to work in the field, the commissioners said.
Law enforcement agencies are increasingly turning to role-playing training to provide officers with a realistic simulation of stressful encounters — often involving people who appear to be mentally ill or suicidal — that can result in shootings or other serious force. The goal is for officers to practice de-escalating those moments so that it comes more naturally in the field.
In Dallas, officers must decide how to approach a person with a shovel who is acting aggressively and appears to be having delusions. In San Diego, officers practice talking a man into surrendering during a hostage situation. In Washington,D.C., police are tested on their ability to disarm a knife-wielding suspect while keeping a group of unruly bystanders calm — all without using deadly force.
The LAPD offers some reality-based training to cops, according to the inspector general's report, but other agencies use it more frequently. The commissioners directed the department to look for ways to regularly provide that training.
"This type of training takes officers out of the classroom, away from the computer and puts them into role-playing situations as close to real-life scenarios as possible," Johnson said.
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