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Columns : Editorial

Do Police Have to be Perfect?

The recent ruling of the Los Angeles Police Commission on the Ezell Ford shooting has very dangerous implications.

July 16, 2015  |  by - Also by this author

Last month the civilian Board of Los Angeles Police Commissioners ruled that one officer out of two involved in the shooting of Ezell Ford last August acted out of policy. The commission has no power to discipline the officer, but its actions are part of the growing activism by politicians and political bodies against American law enforcement officers. The effects of this activism are a dangerous drop in officer morale, a fear among officers that any action they take to proactively reduce crime will be second-guessed to the point they may be prosecuted, and an explosion of violent crime in the affected cities as officers hesitate to take action.

On Aug. 11, 2014, Ezell Ford, 25, was killed in an encounter with two LAPD gang officers in an area of the city known for high crime and gang activity. The officers were on patrol shortly after 8 p.m. when they spotted Ford, a known gang member according to the Los Angeles Police Protective League (LAPPL), walking in a direction away from a gathering of gang members. From Ford's demeanor, the officers believed he was either carrying drugs or a weapon.

The officers stopped the car, got out, and assumed contact and cover roles. After verbal command to stop failed, the contact officer went hands-on with Ford. Ford, who according to his family suffered from schizophrenia and paranoia, reacted to the contact officer's action by turning and taking the officer to the ground. Physical evidence, including scratches on the contact officer's holster and Ford's DNA on the gun and the holster, show that during the struggle, Ford tried to take away the officer's gun. Ford was shot three times, once by the contact officer and twice by the cover officer. He died of his wounds. No drugs or weapons were found on him after the shooting.

The Ezell Ford shooting is one of the most controversial LAPD use-of-force incidents since Rodney King, and its repercussions will persist for years. His family is suing the LAPD and the two involved officers for $75 million. Since Ford was African-American, the shooting has also become a cause for Black Lives Matter activists who have demanded the LAPD fire the officers and that both be prosecuted for murder.

LAPD officer-involved shootings are investigated internally by the Force Investigation Division and the department's Inspector General. The chief and the police commission then rule if they are in policy. Legally, of course, all LAPD shootings of suspects are also investigated by the district attorney's office.

What has happened so far in the Ezell Ford shooting is that Chief Charlie Beck has ruled both the initial contact on the officers' reasonable suspicion with Ford and the shooting as in policy. However, he has criticized the tactics of the contact officer. The inspector general's report partially concurred with the chief, saying the shooting was within policy, the officers did not have reasonable suspicion, and the contact officer's tactics were poor. And the Police Commission gave its opinion, which blamed the contact officer's tactics for causing the shooting.

The police commission used a ruling of the California Supreme Court in the case of Hayes v. San Diego as the basis of its decision. In that case, the court decided that the actions taken by an officer before a use-of-force incident "can" be taken into account in determining the legality of the force. The commissioners have interpreted that "can" as "will."

The commissioners' decision elicited angry response from LAPPL and even a video address by Chief Beck that attempts to boost morale and expresses support for his troops. In that video the diplomatically cool chief is clearly seething at the police commission under the surface.

Beck has reason to worry about officer morale at the LAPD. The commission's ruling says essentially that officers have to perform their jobs without any error prior to a use of force or face discipline or possibly even prosecution.

That's a very high standard to require of law enforcement officers who face fluid situations that require immediate response. Police officers are going to make mistakes when encountering the public because there is no set formula they can follow for all encounters. If we start punishing officers for every mistake, just because an encounter ended in the justified shooting of a suspect, then officers will surely minimize their contact with suspects. And that's the recipe for the criminal bloodbath that is now happening in Baltimore.

Comments (4)

Displaying 1 - 4 of 4

Micho Rizzo @ 7/24/2015 11:35 AM

I agree with this article. The new sheriff McDonnell appears to have the same agenda as the police commission. So maybe no one should be stopped because if we didn't stop them then nothing would have happened. How about if the person who was contacted listened nothing would have happened. Black lives matter. Of course they matter. Officers don't wake up and go to work thinking who are they going to hurt today.

What a joke this country is becoming. Stop paying millions to families who didn't even care enough about their loved one to provide help or shelter. Now their rich. What are they doing now to help "black lives matter". Money matters. Enough said.

Jon Retired LEO @ 7/28/2015 3:14 PM

I agree with this article and Mr. Rizzo. Our current administration seems to be leading the country down a path that could end in another civil war. Anarchy is sitting in the wings like a bunch of buzzards just waiting for all the road kill. The administration seems to want everyone punished that even has contact with African Americans. I don't know what good body cameras would do because the politicians would not believe what was on video anyway.

Lore Frank @ 7/29/2015 11:23 AM

Not only are officers putting their lives on the line everyday - but now they have to be even more stressed that they are going to get prosecuted for putting themselves out there. What a thankless job! Be safe!

Tyrus Moulder @ 3/22/2016 6:11 PM

How is it that Hayes even applies in this situation? This was a rapidly evolving stop in the field of a known gang member. Dangerousness plus rapidly evolving circumstances leave little, if any, room for contemplation of less-intrusive alternatives to resolving the initial contact with this suspect. Evidence collected from the officer's person showed Ford was attempting to disarm the officer of his holstered sidearm. To suggest the suspect's lack of a weapon at the outset of the encounter proves the officers acted excessively is patently BS. Had Ford succeeded in getting the officer's sidearm it is likely a much different story would be told today. It's the Monday morning quarter-backing that takes place in communities like LA and Baltimore that result in officers leaving for greener (and safer) pastures elsewhere.

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