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Apr 2016
Commissioner Johnson should walk a mile in a cop’s shoes
LAPPL Board of Directors

Apparently, Police Commission President Matt Johnson is unfamiliar with the adage “Don’t judge someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.” Mr. Johnson’s misguided proposal to change the Los Angeles Police Department’s Use of Force Policy was created in a vacuum. As far as we know, he never sought input from the men and women who patrol our streets, the Los Angeles Police Protective League (LAPPL), officers who have discharged their weapons, or experts with experience in tactical law enforcement situations.

Four months into his term on the Commission, with no law enforcement training background whatsoever, Mr. Johnson formulated his proposal behind closed doors and announced it with a media splash under the guise of attempting to de-escalate potential use of force incidents. That’s a worthy goal, but unfortunately, by creating this policy change in secret, Mr. Johnson shut out any voices advocating for officer safety. He also failed to evaluate and include real-life quantifiable facts and data to ensure that his policy change protects the lives of police officers and innocent citizens, whose lives also matter.

Mr. Johnson and other ill-informed individuals and organizations actually believe that police officers who find themselves in dangerous situations where they must deploy their weapon have nothing but time on their hands. This belief is not based on facts, data, or science. To introduce an additional mental checklist of items that an officer must run through, while making split-second decisions and navigating volatile and violent confrontations, will result in dead officers. Period.

Mr. Johnson and his Inspector General, Alexander Bustamante, were not interested in learning of the real-world experiences LAPD officers confront each day. They were intent on chasing headlines instead of honestly evaluating the effectiveness of the current policy. They provided zero information as to why the current policy, a policy that took four years of in-depth scrutiny and analysis to develop, should be changed. The current policy was developed by former Chief William Bratton and was based on national best practices, and it is working. If Mr. Johnson and Mr. Bustamante would have utilized “best practices” on how best to solve a problem, they would have come to the same conclusion the LAPPL has come to, that the current use of force policy is not in need of change.

Unfortunately, the process utilized to rush through changes to the current policy did not follow a systematic “best practice” approach to problem solving that calls for:

  • Decision-making based on data, rather than hunches.
  • Determining root causes of problems, rather than reacting to superficial symptoms.
  • Devising permanent solutions, rather than relying on quick fixes.
  • If Mr. Johnson and Mr. Bustamante were actually interested in reducing use of force incidents in a comprehensive manner, they would begin by evaluating the currently available data, instead of following hunches. Recently, the LAPD released a comprehensive report on the use of force among LAPD officers. The report confirms that the use of force by officers is extremely rare, and when officers were compelled to use force, they have increasingly used the “less lethal” options available to them.

    In 2015, the LAPD had over 1.5 million contacts with the public. Of those contacts, only 0.13 percent resulted in the use of force. From 2014–2015, Taser use by officers increased by 24 percent, and the deployment of beanbag projectiles increased by 31 percent. The report compares 2011–2014 and concludes that baton strikes decreased 21 percent and the use of hand/foot strikes by officers declined by 35 percent.

    Those reductions are a result of the current policy, which places an emphasis on training and improving the critical thinking skills of officers—as opposed to the checklist policing style advocated for by Mr. Johnson and Mr. Bustamante. The results of this comprehensive study should be celebrated, not ignored. There’s another set of numbers, however, that Mr. Johnson’s Police Commission are just not dealing with.

    Of the 38 officer-involved shootings in 2015, 12 (31.5 percent) were “suicide by cop.” The number of those involving mentally ill suspects tripled, increasing from five in 2014, to 15 in 2015. And as it relates to officer safety, the number of officers injured last year during officer-involved shootings nearly tripled.

    What this data really shows is that police officers are increasingly at risk. Yet despite that risk, officers are more and more choosing to deploy Tasers, beanbags and other less lethal options to de-escalate use of force situations.

    In police work, seconds matter. The current proposal by the Police Commission fails to rely upon data to quantify just how much time an officer has when the decision to use lethal force is made. We see no reliance upon academic research, studies or live simulations to justify a change to the current policy, a policy that is working.

    In fact, when recently invited by the LAPPL to participate in the LAPD’s Force Option Simulator training, Commission president, and entertainment lawyer, Mr. Johnson declined, stating that it would do him about as much good as it would LAPPL members to learn how to write contracts for Oprah Winfrey. Mr. Johnson not only refuses to walk a mile in our members’ shoes to better understand the split-second decisions he now wants to prolong; he refuses to even have his foot sized to try on the shoes.

    If he were to find it within himself to learn more about the real-life dangers of policing, and how action versus reaction interacts with that danger, we believe a more thoughtful approach to de-escalating use of force incidents would emerge. This letter renews our invitation to participate in LAPD’s Force Option Simulator training.

    To better understand the data supporting the danger of police work, we recommend the Police Commission read the abstract of a study published in 2011 titled “Reasonableness and Reaction Time,” which states:

    “When the police use deadly force, their actions are judged by the reasonableness standard. This paper seeks to inform the reasonableness standard by examining the ability of police officers to respond to armed suspects. The results of a reaction time experiment are presented. In this experiment, police officers encountered a suspect armed with a gun, pointing down and not at the police officer. The police officer had his gun aimed at the suspect and ordered the suspect to drop the gun. The suspect then either surrendered or attempted to shoot the officer. The speed with which the officer fired if the suspect chose to shoot was assessed. Results suggest that the officers were generally not able to fire before the suspect (emphasis added). Implications for the reasonableness standard and policy are discussed.”

    The study utilized a 10-by-10-foot taped square where an armed suspect was placed with either a handgun pointed down at their side or pointed at their head (in a manner threatening suicide). An officer was also placed in the taped square, had their handgun pointed at the suspect and gave verbal commands to the suspect to drop their weapon.

    Despite the fact that the officer’s weapon was pointed at the suspect, the study’s abstract states: “Results suggest that the officers were generally not able to fire before the suspect. The average time it took for the suspect to fire at the officer was .38 seconds.” Remember that in this study the officer had their weapon pointed at the suspect and the suspect had their weapon pointed down at their side or at their head threatening suicide. How is it possible that “officers were generally not able to fire before the suspect?”

    Page 13 of the “Reasonableness and Reaction Time” study reveals the reason why:

    “In tactical policing circles, this is referred to as the OODA loop (Howe, 2005). OODA stands for Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act. In the meantime, the suspect has already assessed the situation, decided on a course of action, and must only complete the act of firing. In OODA loop terminology, the officer must negotiate the entire loop more quickly than the suspect executes the action portion of the loop if the officer is to win the encounter. This is why it is commonly argued that ‘action is always faster than reaction’ (Honig and Lewinsky, 2008, p. 141).”

    Mr. Johnson’s proposal to change the use of force policy effectively establishes additional steps into the current OODA process that officers must manage to render a decision on whether or not to use force. Under Mr. Johnson’s unscientific hunch approach, OODA would become OOCSGDA; Observe, Orient, Checklist, Second Guess, Decide and Act.

    As the “Reasonableness and Reaction Time” study demonstrates, a suspect, armed or not, intent on doing harm has already concluded the three steps of the OODA loop (Observe, Orient, Decide) prior to acting. An officer must navigate those three steps and the additional step of Act after the suspect has decided to act, and that places the officer at a distinct disadvantage. Add the extra steps Mr. Johnson proposes, and officers are further disadvantaged.

    An additional contributing factor to use of force incidents that must be addressed is the level of fatigue officers face when a police department is understaffed. The LAPD is in the midst of a staffing crisis. This equates to officers running from call to call to call during their shift and having their time off requests denied because of understaffing.

    Studies have shown that tired officers have a higher likelihood of making a mistake, of having a negative experience with the public and having their decisions impaired due to fatigue. Fatigue could lead to additional use of force instances; thus, reducing fatigue and ensuring police officers are provided a substantial health and wellness program could reduce use of force incidents.

    The Police Commission has not addressed the LAPD’s understaffing crisis, and thus is not addressing one of the potential root causes contributing to the very issue they are attempting to address. Avoiding a potential root cause of an issue one is attempting to ameliorate is contrary to problem-solving best practices.

    The Department is unable on a daily basis to meet the minimum number of “Basic Cars” that should be deployed in our neighborhoods to keep our community safe. As crime continues to skyrocket, the Department is in need of a Community Policing Reset. Proposition 47 has turned many violent habitual offenders back onto our streets. The LAPD has become the designated first responder to calls from residents who are struggling to cope with L.A.’s severe homelessness crisis and with the severely mentally ill who are going untreated and unassisted.

    Mr. Johnson’s proposed solution does nothing to provide comprehensive mental health and crisis intervention training to bolster officers’ skill sets when it comes to managing suspects or other individuals with mental health issues.

    There’s no proposal by Mr. Johnson to improve officer safety. No proposal to address the staffing crisis. No plan to help the LAPD handle the deluge of felons dumped onto our streets. Zero. There is, however, a whole lot of rhetoric and political window dressing. While that might be good for someone’s political career, it wreaks havoc on public safety.

    Mr. Johnson comes from the entertainment world, where make believe and fiction are his industry’s cornerstones. We’re cops, we live in the real world where life and death decisions are made in split seconds. We hope that he can find the time to walk a mile in our shoes before completing his audition for the role of police tactician where his decisions have real-life implications on whether or not we make it home at our EOW.

    We invite you to share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.



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