By Amy Berberyan
LOS ANGELES, CA – Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti Thursday ordered a review of past incidents where police officer shootings violated department policies to determine if the officers in question were properly punished.
Garcetti pointed out that, “quite often,” the harsh penalties for these shootings that are supported by elected officials and police leaders are never realized because the real punishments handed out by discipline panels are often more lax.
As a result, some officers whom officials desired to remove from the police force remained on it, he suggested.
According to a review by LAPD’s Inspector General Mark Smith, “the all-civilian panels recommended a lesser penalty more than 70 percent of the time.” This prevented 11 officers from being rightfully terminated.
Garcetti cited this review and ordered the inspector general to review the issue again with the intention of putting together a public report outlining “the discipline received by officers found to have broken policy in shootings in recent years, as well as the outcomes of any appeals they made to those punishments.”
During an end-of-year news conference covering the increase in homicides and police shootings, Garcetti said this review “would provide a clearer understanding of whether the discipline process is fair and just,” and also provide insight into what further reforms are needed.
In 2021, LAPD officers shot 37 people. 18 of those victims died, including a 14-year-old bystander who was shot in a Burlington store two days before Christmas.
This is an increase from the 27 LAPD shootings in 2020, of which 7 were fatal. In 2019, there were 26 shootings, with 12 of them being fatal. According to the Los Angeles Times, “the 2019 figures marked a 30-year low in LAPD shootings.”
On Tuesday, LAPD Chief Michel Moore revealed that the department would conduct a “deep dive” review around its training methods concerning the use of deadly force.
This was to instill a sense of “reverence for human life” in officers, which he hopes to ensure even when dangerous suspects are being confronted.
When Garcetti ordered a review on Thursday, he also cited “the inspector general’s assessment of past punishments in bad shootings” and a training audit.
The aforementioned “deep dive” includes using internal investigators with the LAPD to review every police shooting for policy violations. They will be breaking down and analyzing the actions of involved police officers and their tactics.
Once these internal reviews are put together, they are presented to the internal LAPD review panels, then the Police Commission, and then finally to the Board of Rights hearings, which consist of hearings where officers can plead their cases before panels of officers or civilian hearing officers rather than the public.
While this discipline process initially involved panels full of only police officers, a civilian member was added in 1992 after Rodney King’s beating as a form of police reform.
King, who was filmed by a bystander during his arrest, was shown to be unarmed and on the ground during this instance of police brutality decades ago.
After three out of the four police officers involved were tried and acquitted for the use of excessive force, the 1992 Los Angeles riots ensued—this led to the reform.
The hearings became private in 2006, when a California Supreme Court ruling was interpreted by the city attorney’s office to preclude the city from airing disciplinary hearings publicly.
The City Council approved a measure to create an all-civilian panel option in 2019. Garcetti approved of and supported this change at the time, and so did the police union.
Activist groups opposing this change argued it would lessen officer accountability, as it has done according to the findings of the LAPD reviews; the all-civilian hearing panels were much more lenient that the traditional panels.
On Thursday, Police Commission President William Briggs said “Garcetti verbally requested the latest review during a meeting earlier this week, and that the commission will formally request the inspector general conduct it and report back within 30 days at one of its upcoming public meetings.”
The commission will request that the report outlines the discipline imposed in police officer shootings found to be out of policy ranging from the years 2015 to 2020. This will also include the outcomes of any appeals in related cases.
“Information as to whether or not the individual who was shot by police was armed with a firearm will also be included,” said Briggs.
The report will anonymize information to avoid restrictions on releasing discipline information for individual officers, but the commission has yet to determine whether the officers involved in those shootings broke any polices. The review will not cover 2021 shootings.
The president of the union representing rank-and-file officers and also negotiates disciplinary processes with the department through collective bargaining negotiations, Craig Lally, asserted that the LAPD has “robust civilian oversight” over officer discipline.
“What Mayor Garcetti ought to be focused on,” he said, “before he departs to India, is how to reduce the 54 percent increase in homicides and shooting victims since 2019 that are causing terror in our city, especially amongst our Black and Latino residents who make up a disproportionate amount of these victims.”