By Cheryl Dorsey
I spent twenty years as a Los Angeles Police Department officer and patrol sergeant. I’m also a black woman and a mother to four sons.
In 2014, a spate of deadly police use-of-force killings began with the choking death of Eric Garner by New York police and the shooting deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Ezell Ford in Los Angeles. Each case gave me pause.
As a mother and a police sergeant, I understand both sides of police encounters. My police training and experiences in patrol support my position that other options were available in these instances where disproportionate force was used with deadly consequences.
I’ve worked patrol-related assignments in all four geographical bureaus within the City of Los Angeles: South, Central West and Valley as well as the infamous gang unit – known as “C.R.A.S.H.” (Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums) – in South Los Angeles during the 1980s under the command of Police Chief Daryl F. Gates. I have witnessed police officers show restraint regarding use-of-force in more affluent areas of the city, where de-escalation rules the day.
That’s why I support Assembly Bill 392, a bill in the California legislature that would update use-of-force rules and hold officers accountable when they violate those rules.
As a patrol and gang suppression officer, I dealt with violent criminals. Many of them would run from me, fight me and curse me. I had to chase suspects and wrestle them to the ground to effect arrests. All of these situations are inherent to police work. But I understood I could not shoot someone just because they attempted to evade arrest. I knew it was excessive to punch, choke or shoot someone for failing to comply.
As cases like Garner’s show, officers too often escalate when there is no urgency to make an arrest. Police officers should instead attempt to seek cover and concealment, de-escalate and deploy other tactical options when possible.
Unfortunately, poor tactics and contagious gunfire — when officers reflexively and excessively open fire — have led to unnecessary lethal force.
In Seattle and San Francisco, police departments have moved to update their use of force guidelines to limit deadly force unless necessary. Police officers at agencies with stricter use of force policies kill fewer people and are less likely to be killed or seriously injured themselves, according to available data. A recent report by LAPD Chief Michael Moore cited a 25 percent decrease in police shootings in 2018 as a result of their policy that requires police to de-escalate where feasible to do so.
If the Legislature passes AB 392, departments across the state will change their policies and training to require officers to avoid shooting people if there are reasonable alternatives. That’s not too much to ask.
AB 392 would still allow officers to use deadly force to defend against a threat of imminent death to themselves or others when a reasonable officer in the same situation would find it necessary to do so.
The goal is to improve our use-of-force standard in order to save lives. AB 392 is real reform that will accomplish that goal.
Cheryl Dorsey is a retired Los Angeles Police Department sergeant.