LAPD Commission Adds to Guidelines for Review of Police Use of Force

Police tactics and decision-making prior to use of force will be added to LAPD guidelines for evaluating whether that force is appropriate.

By Patrick Healy
|  Wednesday, Feb 19, 2014  |  Updated 8:18 AM PDT
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The Los Angeles Police Department is trying to define when an officer's

Patrick Healy/ Scott Spiro

The Los Angeles Police Department is trying to define when an officer's "use of force" is warranted. The LA Police Commission voted Tuesday on new wording and relevant circumstances. Patrick Healy reports from Miracle Mile for NBC4 News at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014.

Determining whether Los Angeles Police Department officers' use of force is justifiable needs not focus solely on the imminent threat an officer perceived, but may also consider the tactics and decision-making that preceded it, according to a recommendation adopted by the department's civilian police commission.

The recommendations came in a 22-page report by Alexander Bustamante, the Police Commission's inspector general.

"The intent is to clarify," Bustamante told commissioners during their Tuesday board meeting. In the standards that date back four decades, the review was divided into three distinct components: tactics, the drawing and exhibition of a firearm, and the use of force itself.

The first two components have at times been considered in previous evaluations of police shootings, department officials emphasized, but acknowledged specific language was lacking.

"The reasonableness of an officer's use of deadly force includes consideration of the officer's tactical conduct and decisions leading up to the use of deadly force," reads the new sentence to be added to the LAPD manual.

"We deal with all the issues anyway," Commission President Steve Soboroff said. "Now the wording says deal with them in their totality."

The revision will be relevant to less than 1 percent of the police shootings, Bustamante estimated, but could affect those outcomes.

"The cases in which an out-of-policy finding has been made due to pre-shooting conduct has been extremely rare," Bustamante's report stated, but offered no specific examples of cases in which the new language might lead to a different conclusion.

However, the 2011 police shooting of a mentally ill woman in her mother's Baldwin Hills home is suggested as one example by attorneys representing Kamisha Davidson.

The mother had called 911 during an outburst by her daughter, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. She was in her room when responding officers arrived, and they approached. There was an altercation that spilled out into the hallway.

According to accounts, Davidson grabbed a piece of tubing as a weapon and may also have inflicted pain in one officer's groin area. One officer opened fire and shot Davidson in the abdomen.

"They should never have gotten into that situation," Davidson's attorney Randy McMurray said.

The Police Commission review of the force found the officers had made tactical errors, but found that the shooting itself was justified.

"That's because until now they kept the issues separate," McMurray said.

Regardless, McMurray and co-counsel Yana Henriks believe the shooting of Davidson cannot be justified.

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said he does not expect the revision will have a significant effect on outcomes, explaining that just because tactical errors are found, that will not automatically mean the use of force is not justifiable.

"The mistakes have to be absolutely tied to the decision to shoot," Beck said.

Even when found to be in policy, uses of force often lead to additional training for the involved officers, Beck said, adding that he does not expect the language revision will result in any change in the training regimen.

What prompted the Inspector General's recommendations was a 2006 San Diego case in which sheriff's deputies shot to death a disturbed man who approached them with a knife. The man's 12-year-old daughter sued the county for negligence.

The case Hayes v. County of San Diego ultimately resulted in a California State Supreme Court ruling that "tactical conduct and decisions preceding the use of deadly force are relevant considerations under California law in determining whether the use of deadly force gives rise to negligence liability." The Inspector General advised the LAPD commission to "align" department policy with the Hayes ruling.

"What you do is train officers not to put themselves in that circumstance in the first place," McMurray said. His client, Davidson, is now involved in two legal proceedings.

In one, she is the defendant accused of criminal assault. In the other, she is the plaintiff seeking damages in a federal lawsuit naming LAPD and the City of Los Angeles.

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