Imagine you’re at work one day when your boss calls you into his office. “Uh oh,” you think, “this can’t be good.” And indeed, despite the gloss he tries to put on it, it isn’t. The company has adopted a new policy, he tells you, one that will change the way you are evaluated in the performance of your duties.
There are new criteria to be used, criteria designed not to measure how well you performed a given task, but rather to inform you that, no matter how well things may have turned out for you and your company, you should have performed it differently. What’s worse, the judgment will be made not by your peers, your superiors, or even by people in your line of work, but rather by people who have never done your job – and couldn’t if their very lives depended on it.
If you didn’t quit on the spot, you would very likely look askance at your boss and this nonsense he’s peddling. And you would return to your office in the discomfiting knowledge that the place is being run by imbeciles.
You now have a sense of what it’s like to be a police officer in Los Angeles these days.
I have often written of the politics of Los Angeles, one of the more peculiar aspects of which is that the city’s police department is overseen by five mayoral appointees to the police commission. In addition to setting policy, the commission is vested with the authority to determine the propriety of an officer’s use of deadly force.
In making these determinations, the commissioners weigh not only an officer’s decision to fire his weapon, but also the tactics he used as the incident unfolded. And, even though an honest appraisal of such an incident would presumably require a certain level of experience and expertise, not one of these commissioners has ever served so much as a single day as a police officer.
Last October, I wrote in this space on the current fashion of police “de-escalation,” i.e., the avoidance of using force in restoring order, obtaining compliance, and making arrests. Like all fashions, this one was inspired by ephemeral considerations, to wit, mostly ill-informed opinions on high-profile police use-of-force incidents recently seen in Los Angeles and across the country. The Los Angeles police commissioners, five of the most ill-informed people you’re ever likely to find in one room, recently codified this fashion in the form of a new use-of-force policy for the LAPD.
In truth, the new policy (PDF) is not at all a drastic departure from the one it replaces. The changes amount to no more than a few words, these intended to emphasize the desire for alternatives, if any are available, to the use of deadly force. So it is not the policy itself that officers find objectionable. Rather, it is the knowledge that their fate may one day rest in the hands of the people whose idealistic notions of police work cannot be squared with how police work is actually performed.
In my October piece, I linked to this Los Angeles Times article concerning the September 2015 shooting of Norma Guzman, who was killed while approaching officers with an 8-inch knife. Though LAPD Chief Charlie Beck ruled the shooting to be “in-policy,” the commission disagreed, arguing that the first officer to fire on Guzman should have “redeployed” to a safer place.
And this is where the commissioners’ lack of real-world experience becomes obvious and alarming. They disapproved of the outcome, so they propose that different actions by the officer would have resulted in a better one. But in doing so they fail to consider what might have happened had the officer done what they think he should have.
In the video accompanying the Times’s story, we can see that the passenger officer alights from the police car and apparently spots Guzman walking toward him. He draws his weapon and, we are told, orders her to stop and drop the knife. She fails to comply and is shot when she gets to within about ten feet of the officer.
The driver officer, having exited the police car and come around the rear, also fires as he sees Guzman approaching his partner. In the commissioners’ imagination, the passenger officer should have distanced himself from Guzman before firing. But consider that in doing so, he would also have distanced himself from his partner, whose view of Guzman was momentarily blocked by the police SUV.
One can easily imagine a scenario in which the passenger officer “re-deploys” only to expose his unwary partner to the danger posed by Guzman. What’s more, this scenario might easily have resulted in Guzman being between the officers, thus creating the danger of deadly cross-fire.
What’s more, had the passenger officer “re-deployed,” the commission’s euphemism for “run away,” he may have violated the LAPD policy that prohibits partners from separating. Had he done so and left his partner to face Guzman alone, the commission surely would have found fault with either officer or both if Guzman had been shot.
It’s one thing for police officers to critique the actions of their peers with the aim of improving safety, it’s quite another to have five political appointees with no relevant experience taking months to evaluate decisions officers must make in an instant. No less authority than the U.S. Supreme Court has made this clear, ruling in Graham v. Connor (1989) that “the ‘reasonableness’ of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight.”
In the current climate, hindsight on police matters abounds, and the acuity is most often less than 20/20, with the L.A. police commission perhaps in need of a long white cane and a seeing-eye dog. And with all this myopic second-guessing comes the apparent reluctance among some police managers to uphold the law whenever there is a risk of a violent encounter with those who are breaking it. The most notable recent example can be found on the campus of the University of California, in Berkeley, where the campus police chief so disgraced herself at the Milo Yiannopoulos event earlier this year.
Following that disgrace, I offered some advice to her and her campus overseers on how to handle a visit to the campus by Ann Coulter, who was scheduled to speak on April 27. Already the campus officials have embarrassed themselves once more, first by rescinding the invitation to Coulter, then by rescheduling her appearance to a date during the week before final examinations.
In first canceling the event, university officials said it was “not possible to assure that the event could be held successfully — or that the safety of Ms. Coulter, the event sponsors, audience and bystanders could be adequately protected.” In this they admit their own ineptitude and their unwillingness to accept the fact that in order keep these people safe they may have to use force against those who threaten them.
It’s quite simple: Announce that the law will be enforced, then do it. Perhaps this is too much to ask these days.