Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck’s recommendation that criminal charges be filed against the officer who shot and killed a homeless man in Venice last May is a dramatic departure — and a welcome one — from the usual law enforcement practice of circling the wagons on use-of-force incidents.
To some, it may seem like an overtly political act. Some may suspect that Beck threw an officer under the bus to appease local activists and perhaps city officials in an effort to avoid the kind of uproar faced in Chicago and other cities where police officers have shot unarmed African Americans with seeming impunity. And who wouldn’t be suspicious? After all, this sort of recommendation isn’t made by police chiefs very often.
The willingness of a chief to acknowledge that sometimes use of force is not justified even if a suspect was behaving badly is an important step forward.
But maybe it should be done more often. Not the throwing under the bus part — obviously a police chief should base his decision on the facts and the evidence, and not on political pressure or public outcry. But the willingness of a chief to acknowledge that sometimes use of force is not justified even if a suspect was behaving badly is an important step forward. Historically, police chiefs in L.A. and elsewhere have been part of the cone of silence in cases of deadly use of force. No doubt the public outrage over police killings has made that stance more difficult.
L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti has Beck’s back on this one. On Monday, Garcetti said in a statement that he hopes Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey will consider Beck’s recommendation “with the utmost gravity,” noting the importance of accountability and the need for trust between law enforcement officers and the public they serve.
That’s troubling, and helps explain the chief’s decision. Of course, it’s not up to Beck to file charges. That’s Lacey’s job. If she also believes a crime was committed, we trust she will file charges, and that the matter will be brought before a judge and jury like any other criminal case.