The daily work of Los Angeles Police Department officers is among the most challenging and dangerous jobs in the nation. Those who choose to do this hazardous work do so because they feel called to protect their community and have faith that the world-class training they received will protect not only the community, but also themselves.
LAPD officers are not seeking to receive an award. In fact, they are well aware that police work is often a thankless job, especially today, when anti-police rhetoric is prominent and perpetuated by the media and special interest groups.
The least we can do for these officers is preserve their right to go home to their families each night, and their right to take action to defend their own lives, and by extension, the lives of the public.
We recognize the Chief’s intentions, however, the reality is the “Preservation of Life” award announced Tuesday by Chief Beck is ill-conceived and in actuality has dangerous implications. Incentivizing officers for “preservation of life” suggests somehow that this is not what they train hard to do. It suggests that officers must go above and beyond their normal activities to avoid harm; or put another way, that officers will be penalized for resorting to an appropriate, lawful use of force. That is ludicrous. The last thing an LAPD officer wants to do is to harm, or worse yet, take the life of a suspect.
This award will prioritize the lives of suspected criminals over the lives of LAPD officers, and goes against the core foundation of an officer’s training.
Tuesday’s L.A. Times editorial piece references an incident earlier this month in which LAPD officers subdued a suspect without using deadly force. While we agree with the L.A. Times and Chief Beck that the officers’ actions were heroic, we are also very thankful that the officers involved were not injured during their efforts, a point not raised by the L.A. Times. This incident could have gone in an entirely different direction, and it epitomizes the often split-second situations where officers rely on their training to make it out alive. The “Preservation of Life” award undermines and devalues the training that has saved countless peace officer lives.
The truth is, we can think of a long list of officers who deserve to be awarded: officers who act heroically on a daily basis, and who protect the lives of everyone—even criminals—because it is their job to do so. Officers put their lives on the line each day and encounter countless violent suspects. The vast majority of these interactions are resolved without issue. Sometimes, however, force is needed to save multiple lives. That is the reality of police work. It is dangerous and not pretty at times. Using deadly force is the last resort to safeguard lives, and it is never our first choice.
The same L.A. Times article acknowledges this.
“Given the violent nature of our society and easy availability of firearms, use-of-force incidents are not about to disappear.”
We share their concerns over an increase in incidences of officer-involved force and shootings. Officers are increasingly feeling threatened in an already dangerous environment.
However, when the implication of this new award is to put the lives of suspects above the lives of our officers, then we have to speak up.
What we don’t want to see is a flag-draped coffin and the Chief speaking at an officer’s funeral stating, “This brave officer will be awarded the Preservation of Life medal.” This is simply a bad idea.