Shooting expedites amendment to police policy

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On Feb. 16, the Los Angeles Police Commission ruled unanimously 5-0 to tighten the guidelines on police officers shooting at moving vehicles.

The decision came soon after LAPD police officers shot and killed a 13 year old who was driving a stolen car on Feb. 6.

Under the new guidelines, police officers are prevented from firing at moving cars unless they consider their lives, or those of bystanders, to be in danger. The commission also recommends that police be trained to move out of the path of the vehicle that is coming toward them. If police are unable to evade the vehicle, they should perceive the vehicle as a threat, instead of the driver.

Elizabeth Brennun, spokesperson for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, said it is beneficial that the new guidelines are now explicitly written out.

She said she believes, however, that the guidelines could have been worded more strongly to include greater protections for civilians.

“They could have created a policy a little stronger, but the importance is that people (know) the policy,” Brennun said.

Lt. Paul Vernon, LAPD public information officer, said the guidelines state that when police see a vehicle moving toward them, they should not immediately assume it is aimed at them.

“The officer should consider other factors,” Vernon said.

According to Vernon, although the commission’s ruling on the policy came shortly after the shooting of the 13 year old, the policy had been in review for about a year. The incident did, however, prompt a need to outline the policy.

“(The policy) was already being considered for about a year, and unfortunately, it had not been enacted (at) the time of the shooting,” Vernon said. “(After the incident), the policy was expedited.”

However, CSUN computer science professor Vernon Cook, an expert on the criminal justice system and law enforcement who served on the L.A. Criminal Justice Planning Board from 1978-80, said he believes the ruling has not entirely taken into consideration police officers’ safety.

“If this change in policy provides time to investigate this incident, engage the public in a dialog regarding the events, and review and compare prior policy, then it has merit,” Cook said. “It is my judgment that this new policy will not survive, because it disregards officer safety, common sense and street sense. If officer safety is disregarded, then, by default, public safety is disregarded.”

However, Vernon said the policy does not in any way take away the rights of police to protect themselves.

“(Our) first instinct is protecting the community,” Vernon said. “(The police) have an equal duty and the legal right to protect themselves, (too).”

The shooting of the 13 year old prompted questions and criticisms regarding the use of force by police.

The boy, who was driving a stolen car, evaded police by running traffic signals, and at one point, rammed his vehicle against police cars. Police shot and killed the suspect, bringing into question how much force is appropriate to protect police officers, civilians and suspects.

“The vast majority of drivers will simply yield to police and emergency vehicles’ red lights, sirens, flashing lights,” Cook said. “They will slow, pull over and halt their driving.”

Cook said the reported actions of the suspect, up until the point where the suspect had halted his car by the sidewalk, did not indicate to experienced officers that the driver was going to be cooperative.

“The police policy enforced at the time has a number of guidelines or tests,” Cook said. “The officers must consider the safety of the public. The officers must consider the safety of themselves. If one or both of these guidelines or tests is being threatened by a suspect, (then) the officer is to apply appropriate force to neutralize the threat.”