Monday, May 25, 2009
The LAPD Got a Handle on Deadly Force, now it’s Inglewood’s Turn
Earl Ofari Hutchinson
There were cheers and a bold cautionary note for Inglewood police officials, indeed all police officials, in the Harvard Study on the LAPD. The cheers were that the LAPD has done a near 180 degree turn in going from the national poster department for police abuse, brutality and corruption to a fine tuned, well-oiled, crime fighting department and most importantly a department that has done it by respecting civil rights and not abusing minorities.
The abuse part is the key to the LAPD’s image swap. That’s abuse that translates out to the wildly excessive overuse of physical and especially deadly force. The Harvard study found that in the past five years the most serious uses of force by the LAPD- shootings, carotid artery control holds or head strikes with impact weapons – plunged 30 percent. It also found that the incidence of physical force against blacks and Latinos plummeted far more than the force used against whites. The painful explanation for this is that the LAPD officers used much more force against blacks and Latinos in the first place, so the room for improvement here was much greater.
Getting the handle on the use of force is the single biggest reason why more blacks and Latinos in the city said that the LAPD has marched closer than ever to being the kinder, gentler department that it has long boasted that it wants to be. It accomplished the fete through solid, proactive political and department leadership, governance and most importantly independent monitoring, oversight, accountability and transparency. The stated goal is absolute zero tolerance for corruption, abuse, and especially the misuse of physical and deadly force. When cops behaved badly they were investigated and punished.
Now here’s the cautionary note in the Harvard study; a note that the LAPD, Inglewood, and other police officials must take note of. Physical and deadly force far from being a distant memory is still used in far too many instances, and many of those instances are questionable, and blacks and Latinos are more likely than not to be on the receiving end of that physical force. Researchers flatly chided the department for using force in what it called routine enforcement situations. The unmistakable message is that far too many persons are getting roughed up when cops make stops and arrests than may be warranted. That’s been painfully true in the two year surge in Inglewood police shootings.
Questionable cop shootings and their often pro forma stamp investigations stir turmoil and unrest, and deepen the distrust and cynicism of blacks and minorities toward the police. They reinforce the deep seated belief that cops are only out to cover up their dirt and that the lives of minorities are cheap. The multiple officer involved killings in Inglewood have stirred the same rage, frustration, and mistrust. The shootings have done much to make a small city police department the new national poster department for police violence.
Though Inglewood police officials hotly deny that their investigation will be a whitewash, few believe that. The disbelief has nothing to do with the heat, passion and fury over the shootings. It has everything to do with the history of cops investigating other cops who are alleged to have committed or actually are guilty of misconduct, and especially misconduct that involves the overuse of deadly force. These investigations rely heavily on often tightly orchestrated statements, or carefully scripted reports from the officer or officers about the incident, cursory review of citizen complaints, forensic evidence and a crime scene reenactment that’s heavily weighted to support the under fire officer’s version of the incident. Meanwhile, the statements and testimony from witnesses that contradict the officer’s version of the incident are often treated with skepticism, disbelief or are outright dismissed.
Often police officials tip their hand and publicly declare even before the first scrap of evidence is gathered that the shooting or physical confrontation was probably justified. The result of police investigating themselves is virtually preordained. The accused officer is almost always exonerated. If the officer kills or maims the shooting is almost always ruled in policy.
But the stain of these investigations is not totally scrubbed away when an officer skips off scot free. There are the grieving families, the inevitable and costly lawsuits, and increase in public ill-will toward the police.
This was the LAPD’s crushing burden for years precisely because so many cops got away with wrongdoing. Inglewood police and city officials can avoid shouldering that same burden by doing exactly what the Harvard study showed the LAPD has tried, and to a halting degree succeeded in doing, and that’s to get a firm handle on the use of deadly force.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His weekly radio show, “The Hutchinson Report” can be heard on weekly in Los Angeles at 9:30 AM Fridays on KTYM Radio 1460 AM and live streamed nationally on ktym.com