Nearly 50 community residents turned out Monday for a special meeting of the Community Police Advisory Board to hear officials with the Southwest Division of the Los Angeles Police Department talk about the agency’s use-of-force policy.
This was more than the normal audience that shows up for the CPAB meetings, according to organizers, and it happened in the wake of four “critical incidents,” as the LAPD is calling them, that involved use of force, including the in-custody death of Alesia Thomas in July.
Chief Charlie Beck has asked each division to add discussions about use of force to all meetings of its support programs.
At the Southwest Division meeting, the leadership stressed the idea that the LAPD now utilizes constitutional policing, which impacts how and why officers pull over cars. They no longer pull over people who “look suspicious.”
Warning that there is no doubt that another critical incident will occur somewhere in the city, given the size, population and the fact that police officers are drawn from the general population, Capt. Darryl Woodyard emphasized that relationships with both the community and police officers is a key way to keep such situations under control.
The leadership also repeatedly pointed out that they want the process to be transparent and to ensure that the officers involved are given due process, but at the same time all the facts are laid out clearly for the community to see, although they did acknowledge that there may be disagreement on the interpretation.
Sgt. Barry Montgomery, the training coordinator at Southwest, explained critical incidents are divided in two ways: the categorical incident, which results in death or injury, and the non-categorical, which is everything else.
Montgomery also reiterated that the LAPD use-of-force policy is consistent with state and federal guidelines, and is based on the idea that the majority of officers with the same experience and skill would find the use of force reasonable and necessary and come up with the same solution in a similar situation.
Additionally, according to South Bureau Cmdr. Bill Scott, the LAPD has a computer-based early-warning system that will alert officials, if an officer appears to be involved in force incidents more than his or her peers.
Once a critical incident has occurred, newly installed Southwest Division area Capt. Paul Snell pointed out that the department has a year to complete an investigation and that an incident will undergo at least six levels of scrutiny. These include an independent review by the LAPD inspector general, a review by the LAPD Internal Affairs department, an overview by the division captain, the commander of the bureau (in this case South Bureau), the chief of police and the Police Commission. The L.A. County District Attorney’s office will also look at the case to determine if any criminal charges are warranted.
Among the factors that will be considered to determine if the use of force was within department policy are the size of the suspect versus that of the officer; an officer’s years of experience on the job; whether or not the response was reasonable and necessary; what was the perceived threat level? What occurred and what was known by officers at the time of the incident.