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LOS ANGELES -- Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton is seeking permission to make the department's review of officer-involved shootings and other use-of-force incidents less punitive for some officers who violate department rules.
The Los Angeles Police Commission, which oversees the Police Department, is poised to vote today on whether to approve Bratton's proposed changes to how he and his command staff deal with officers who use serious force during altercations.
The move would alter a review system used by the department for more than 25 years. And it comes as part of a recent, ongoing shift within the LAPD away from hard-nosed discipline toward a more nuanced approach of "strategy before penalty."
"I imagine a department full of thoughtful, creative police officers who aren't confused about doing the right thing because they understand the principles behind what is expected of them," Deputy Chief Mark Perez, head of the department's Professional Standards Bureau, said about the department's new approach to discipline.
Currently, an officer who is found to have violated department policies regarding a "categorical use of force" -- incidents such as when an officer fires a weapon, strikes someone in the head or causes someone to be hospitalized -- is automatically subjected to a formal review to determine what, if any, discipline should be imposed. Under the proposed changes, the chief would be allowed to sidestep that review and, instead, order the officer to receive training or some other less punitive result.
"The revised adjudication process allows the department to use whatever means are reasoned to most likely ensure future compliance," Bratton wrote to commissioners.
Commissioner Alan Skobin voiced support for the idea. He said it would help ensure that the labor-intensive, time-consuming discipline reviews were conducted only in cases in which discipline was necessary. He emphasized that the new rules would not make it more difficult to detect officers who used force too frequently since each use-of-force incident would be documented on an officer's record regardless of whether the chief called for a disciplinary review.
Other commissioners and department watchdogs said they had concerns about how the policies would be implemented.
"The proposed procedures are a welcome recognition that discipline alone is not a cure-all for strategic and tactical errors," said Merrick Bobb, executive director of the nonprofit Police Assessment Resource Center. "Care must be taken, however, not to diminish strict accountability for officer-involved shootings, and egregious incidents should continue to result in appropriate discipline or termination. Accordingly, let's reserve final judgment on these changes until we see how they work out in practice."
Andre Birotte, the commission's inspector general, echoed Bobb, saying that he was concerned that the proposed changes could lead the chief to forgo discipline reviews in too many cases.
The policy also would alter how the department handles use-of-force cases in which officers are found to have acted appropriately.
The current rules allow the commission to determine that officers acted within department policies but still require them to receive training in specific areas in which they were found to have made mistakes. That training is widely viewed by officers as a type of punishment and so is completed grudgingly, officials say.
The new plan would do away with that type of finding. In its place, all officers involved in a use-of-force incident would automatically receive training in the general skills that were called for and be required to participate in a "tactical debriefing" about the incident within three months. Later, after the commission had determined that the officers' actions were acceptable, more specific training could be imposed.
It remains unclear how much, if any, of the department's findings in such incidents would be made public by the department or the commission. Since 2006, following a state Supreme Court decision, the LAPD has sharply curtailed what information it releases on use-of-force incidents and disciplinary matters.