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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Los Angeles police chief seeks to forgo reviews in some use-of-force cases

Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton is seeking permission to make the department's review of officer-involved shootings and other use-of-force incidents less punitive for some officers who violate department rules.

The Los Angeles Police Commission, which oversees the Police Department, is poised to vote today on whether to approve Bratton's proposed changes to how he and his command staff deal with officers who use serious force during altercations.

The move would alter a review system used by the department for more than 25 years. And it comes as part of a recent, ongoing shift within the LAPD away from hard-nosed discipline toward a more nuanced approach of "strategy before penalty."

"I imagine a department full of thoughtful, creative police officers who aren't confused about doing the right thing because they understand the principles behind what is expected of them," Deputy Chief Mark Perez, head of the department's Professional Standards Bureau, said about the department's new approach to discipline.

Currently, an officer who is found to have violated department policies regarding a "categorical use of force" -- incidents such as when an officer fires a weapon, strikes someone in the head or causes someone to be hospitalized -- is automatically subjected to a formal review to determine what, if any, discipline should be imposed. Under the proposed changes, the chief would be allowed to sidestep that review and, instead, order the officer to receive training or some other less punitive result.

"The revised adjudication process allows the department to use whatever means are reasoned to most likely ensure future compliance," Bratton wrote to commissioners.

Commissioner Alan Skobin voiced support for the idea. He said it would help ensure that the labor-intensive, time-consuming discipline reviews were conducted only in cases in which discipline was necessary. He emphasized that the new rules would not make it more difficult to detect officers who used force too frequently since each use-of-force incident would be documented on an officer's record regardless of whether the chief called for a disciplinary review. [Mark Godsey]

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