A few weeks ago, I wrote an article criticizing the existence of citizen review panels and their role in supervising law enforcement agencies. The danger, I wrote, was that groups of untrained civilians would judge the actions of professional LEOs and try to influence the way the law enforcement agency conducts business. That concern has yet again been realized in Los Angeles with a recent report by the Inspector General of the Los Angeles Police Commission.
The report, issued on June 27, 2012, takes issue with the use of force statistics and reporting by the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) regarding officer involved shootings. The report presents such a bizarre twisting of the facts and statistical analysis which defy logic. Predictably, the media reports are even more strained in their attempts to interpret the results. So, risking the folly of an attempt to reduce the morass to a position of clarity, at least for a moment, I will do my best to explain the report.
The LAPD reports statistics on OIS based upon the number of LEOs who fire shots at a suspect. For instance, one officer shoots one suspect? This is reported as one OIS. When looking at an increase in OIS, police officials offered the explanation that assaults on LEOs rose in the same time period. However, the Inspector General took issue with this theory. Why, you ask? Because he determined that when one suspect assaults more than one LEO, for example by pointing a weapon at a group of LEOs, this is reported as an assault on multiple LEOs. This created, for the Inspector General, a statistic that does not reflect the “reality” on the street. More importantly, as I predicted a few weeks ago, this created a new reason to question the number of OIS. Stated simply, “If assaults on LEOs were not truly up, then why was there an increase in the number of OIS?”
In response to this report, the earth-shattering suggestion is that OIS should be evaluated as to whether or not the use of force was within policy. The corollary to this suggestion, which should have been the norm at all times, is that whether or not OIS were within policy was not the end of the analysis because the statistics played a role in the evaluation of the OIS! My first problem with this, and I have several, is that no LEO has faced down an armed assailant and thought for a moment about the incidence of assaults on other LEOs! In that instant, they think about the law regarding the use of force and whether or not they will go home to their family! In every sense, if the use of force is within the law, it should be within policy.
Think for a moment about the ramifications of the use of such statistics. Each OIS is explained and justified based upon the law not whether or not the LEO works in a high crime area, has used deadly force in the past 12 months or has been assaulted in the past! I doubt any citizen ever called 911 because they believed the incidence of assaults in their area was up. They call because someone is threatening them or attempting to force entry into their home.
The true folly of the report is that the calculation of the number of victims is a matter of standardized reporting requirements of crime statistics and the basic tenets of criminal law! As every LEO knows, when a suspect threatens 5 LEOs with a tire iron, he has committed an assault on every LEO on the scene!
The same is true when a robber waives a gun in a bank full of customers. The bad guy is charged with one count of aggravated assault, or the state equivalent, for each customer. So why should LEOs be any different? Once again, we see people stating, at the heart of this controversy, that being assaulted is “just part of the job” for a LEO. Forgive me if I am not amused.
So, what is the answer? I predict the politicians and bureaucrats in Los Angeles will continue to debate the issue and never consider the ramifications of their efforts in the real world. Meanwhile, the LEOs in the LAPD will keep responding to calls, facing armed threats and protecting themselves, each other and public. Perhaps the officers of the LAPD should respond to the home of one of these commission members following a 911 call and leave their weapons in their vehicles. “Why don’t you have your gun?” they will ask. “So sorry sir, but we have not been assaulted enough this month to justify using deadly force should the need arise.” You just cannot make this stuff up.
Lance LoRusso is an attorney, former LEO and founder of LoRusso Law Firm, PC in Marietta, Georgia. He is the General Counsel for the Georgia Fraternal Order of Police and author of a blog, www.bluelinelawyer.com. He speaks at many conferences for law enforcement on use of force, responses to critical incident, and other topics of interest to law enforcement. He will soon release a book for LEOs on critical incidents.