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Putting officer-involved shootings in perspective: Part II

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 08/12/2015 @ 11:59 AM

In Part I of this blog, posted on July 24, 2015, we explained the importance of putting officer-involved shootings (OIS) in perspective. The media coverage of sensational officer-involved shootings over the past 18 months should not be seen as part of a pattern of police activity. The only common factor in any OIS is that an officer perceives imminent, mortal danger for him or herself or for someone else. And it always starts with a suspect who resists during the contact with the police.

In this post, we will look at two movements in society we believe are greatly increasing the pressure on police officers as we work to ensure the safety of the community. We are also addressing, again, the use of Hayes v. County of San Diego by the Police Commission. We simply cannot let this stand, and the City and public must understand why.

Changes in society have dramatically increased police encounters with combative individuals

Changes in our society and our legal system have dramatically multiplied the number of times a day police officers are called on to deal with disrespectful, non-compliant and combative people. Two of the most obvious changes include:

  • Homeless and mentally ill individuals on our streets rather than at facilities that can help them. It is well-documented that support for the mentally ill in our society has declined. Many disturbed individuals now reside on the streets contributing to the significant homeless population in Los Angeles. While the Los Angeles City government and LAPD recognize this problem and are working to address it, the solutions are expensive and therefore minimally available. In the entire city, there is only one system-wide Mental Assessment Response Team. Police officers make every effort to diffuse volatile situations and use non-lethal force, but when resistance occurs officers have been charged with a duty to protect the public and themselves. Whether the person posing the threat is mentally ill or not cannot be taken into account when the threat is immediate and lethal. Very simply stated, if someone grabs an officer’s gun, regardless of mental capacity, force must be used to halt the imminent and lethal threat.
  • Fewer consequences for belligerent behavior. Los Angeles is experiencing rising crime rates for the first time in a decade. The mayor, the Police Chief, and certainly the officers of the LAPD, believe that at least a portion of the increase in crime can be traced to laws and policies designed to lower crowding in our prisons and jails. Proposition 47 was promoted as a way to keep non-violent offenders out of jail, lower prison populations and give these offenders an opportunity to mend their ways. Likewise, an earlier statute, AB109, was designed to move non-violent criminals to county jails where—due to overcrowding—they are often released to a parole system that lacks resources to monitor them. But the “non-violent” designation is a technicality, based on the most recent conviction, even if that person may have previously committed violent crimes. This entire exercise, however well meaning, is a nightmare for police officers who must now deal with an influx of criminals that are back on the streets. The lack of penalties for their actions make them bolder and less concerned about the consequences of their behavior toward authority and society.

A police officer’s actions prior to perceiving imminent danger should have no bearing on a decision to use force

Police officers have the right to return home safely every night. Based on the standard set by a U.S. Supreme Court decision, “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.” This has been the established standard for over 25 years and comes from the highest court in the land.

The new standard recently applied by the Police Commission to rule one officer’s shooting in the Ezell Ford case “out of policy” seeks to take into account the officer’s actions prior to the struggle in which Ford attempted to take the officer’s gun. According to this new standard, if the officer’s tactics prior to the stop were deficient, the officer must forfeit his life or the use of force will be out of policy. The threat of being killed with his own weapon was irrelevant in their decision. This new standard grows out of a California Supreme Court case involving lawsuits about negligent behavior that seeks to determine tort liability, not constitutional principles. This new standard defies logic, runs counter to established policy, puts officers in danger, and should be removed.

We invite you to share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

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Help stop a cop killer’s parole

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 08/10/2015 @ 01:11 PM

There are no words to describe the surprise and anger we felt last week when we learned that on Tuesday, August 4, Voltaire Williams CDC# E17796, just a year after being denied parole again, has been considered for parole by the CDCR, after his conviction in the murder of LAPD Detective Thomas Williams, according to Luis Patino, a state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesman.

Acting on their own and without any indication, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s (CDCR) Board of Parole (BP) granted the hearing for the violent murderer.

The BP has been speeding up parole hearings for inmates with life sentences such as Voltaire Williams, citing pressure from officials to consider overcrowded prison conditions, according to LA Observed.

The Los Angeles Police Protective League (LAPPL), which represents the almost 10,000 rank-and-file officers of the LAPD, vehemently opposes the release of Voltaire Williams, who was involved in the brutal ambush assassination of LAPD Detective Thomas Williams in front of his young son. The murder occurred on Halloween in 1985 in a spray of gunfire just as Det. Williams was picking up his son from a day care center.

Det. Williams had arrested Daniel Jenkins, an associate of Voltaire Williams, and had testified in his robbery trial. In a desperate attempt to sabotage the trial and to get revenge against the detective for his part in the prosecution, Voltaire Williams, Daniel Jenkins and the triggerman conspired to kill Det. Thomas Williams. Voltaire Williams has never expressed remorse for his role in the murder.

Now, Det. Williams’ two adult children and widow, along with the Los Angeles Police Protective League, are emphatically protesting the release of Voltaire Williams. We implore Governor Jerry Brown to reverse any decision by the Parole Board to free Williams and keep this brutal killer behind bars for the public good.

Please help us block the release of this murderer. Send the message that the killing or attempted killing of a law enforcement officer is the ultimate violation of public safety and should result in the forfeiture of the assailant’s freedom for life. Public safety must come first.

On behalf of the almost 10,000 LAPD officers who protect and serve Los Angeles, we’re asking for your help, in memory of Detective Williams and in support of his wife and two children. Please take a few minutes to write a letter or email the governor and urge him to deny parole to Voltaire Williams.

You can email the governor at govnews.ca.gov/gov39mail/mail.php or mail a letter to his attention at:

Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr.
Attention: LEGAL
State Capitol, Suite 1173
Sacramento, California 95814
Voltaire Williams CDC No. E17796*
(*If you choose to email the governor, please include this identifying information.)

We only have 120 days to convince the governor to reverse this travesty of justice, so please send your email or letter soon. Thank you for helping us keep public safety first.

We invite you to share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

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Putting officer-involved shootings in perspective: Part I

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 07/24/2015 @ 03:45 PM

Following national coverage of officer-involved shootings (OIS) last summer, media coverage of all such shootings has expanded. Additional coverage will be generated in coming months by the Los Angeles Police Department’s determination as to whether several high-profile OIS this year were justified or “in policy.” Each of these determinations will generate additional coverage that may give the public a false impression about our officers and the work they do to assure the safety of the people of Los Angeles, including the over 40 million who visit this great city every year.

The precise circumstances that lead to each OIS are unique, except that in every instance, the officers involved made split-second, life-and-death decisions based on their perception that their own lives or those of others were in danger.

Because we have a lot to say about this topic, we are doing two postings. Part I addresses officer- involved shootings themselves and Part II will address today’s environment which increases the likelihood that officer-involved shootings will occur.

Lives in danger

The critical factor in every OIS is that an officer perceives that his or her own life or the life of another is in imminent peril. The daily work of police officers is stressful and dangerous. They deal with situations in society that most would prefer to avoid. Confrontations with aggressive, violent individuals are increasingly common. A growing lack of respect for the police and for the law in general fueled by sensationalist media coverage encourages certain individuals to be non-compliant and combative. Police officers must be vigilant as they go about their duties of keeping communities safe from crime and danger. Officers are trained to protect the public and to protect themselves in dangerous situations. That will not, and should not, ever change.

Each officer involved-shooting is unique

The specific circumstances that lead to an OIS are always unique. An infinite number of possible actions and reactions can bring on the perception of imminent, life-threatening danger that requires officers to make split-second decisions based on training and instinct. The public needs to understand the vast array of situations our officers face every day—any one of which can suddenly require a decision as to whether or not to use deadly force. There are so many variables in the distinctive circumstances police officers face in their day to day activities that training cannot possibly cover every one of them. Each decision to use deadly force is complex and fact based. This complexity and the need to discover all of the facts is the reason it takes months to thoroughly investigate and reach a conclusion about every shooting.

We invite you to share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

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New information throws light on why Ezell Ford attacked LAPD officers

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 07/09/2015 @ 10:10 AM

Ezell Ford booking photo.

Ezell Ford booking photo.

Over the last several weeks, there has been a great deal of public discussion about the Ezell Ford incident, with people offering their opinions on the officers’ actions and Ford’s background and behavior that evening. Opinions may differ, but all should be tethered to the facts.

First, Ford had a history of mental health issues. According to court records, in September 2011, a Santa Barbara judge found Ford incompetent to stand trial for stealing a car, and confined him to a mental hospital for several months. Among the most difficult situations police officers encounter is when they confront mentally ill suspects, who often display furtive or erratic behaviors and fail to respond to officers’ commands in a calm and rational manner. Ford’s mental illness provides an explanation for his failure to respond to the officers’ commands in this case and his erratic behavior in attempting to grab one of the officer’s weapons.

Second, Ford had an extensive criminal record, with a history of convictions for drug offenses, possession of a weapon, trespass and vehicle theft. In fact, Ford pled guilty to aggravated trespass as recently as January of last year, just a few months before his encounter with the LAPD officers.

Third, court records suggest that Ford was a gang member or affiliated with a gang. Two California Court of Appeal decisions describe Ford as “a member of the East Coast Crips gang,” and a 2008 arrest report references “66 East Coast Crip,” a violent criminal organization. In addition, Ford had a “C” tattooed on his face, which is another indication of gang affiliation. These court decisions reflect that Ford was shot by a rival gang in 2008, which sparked a gang war culminating with a drive-by shooting that left one man dead and another injured.

Finally, a bench warrant for Ford’s arrest was outstanding at the time of his interaction with the LAPD officers. Ford had previously been convicted of stealing a car in Santa Barbara court, and was on probation in January of last year when he pleaded guilty to trespass in Los Angeles court. As a result, the Santa Barbara court revoked Ford’s probation and issued a warrant for his arrest.

All of these factors—Ford’s history of mental illness, a lengthy criminal history, gang affiliation and an outstanding warrant—may help explain why Ford concealed his hands, refused to comply with the officers’ directions and reached for an officer’s weapon, ultimately resulting in the officers having to use deadly force. None of these factors have received adequate attention in the press, and it is unclear whether they were considered by the Police Commission.

Opinions are heated on the Ezell Ford incident, which is understandable. But all the facts must be considered in order to make an informed judgment about the events leading to LAPD officers having to use their weapons to protect themselves during their encounter with an erratic and aggressive suspect.

We invite you to share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

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LAPPL Releases Public Information Showcasing Ford as a Crip Gang Member

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 06/18/2015 @ 08:58 PM

Earlier this week Los Angeles Police Protective League President Craig Lally criticized the Los Angeles Police Commission’s decision that the actions of one of the officers involved in the Ezell Ford case were not in policy. In making these comments, Lally said that Ford was a “known gang member.” This comment gained attention in media coverage

Today the LAPPL referenced public information of Ezell Ford’s arrest record for marijuana possession and trafficking in 2008. This arrest had previously been reported by the Los Angeles Times in an article published on January 16, 2015. That article noted – and is clear on the arrest incident record released today by the LAPPL – that the LAPD considered Ford to be a member of the “66 St. East Coast Crips” with the gang moniker “Lil Easy.”

A Times report from January 14, 2015 points out that shortly after his release from jail on the marijuana charge, Ford was shot in the leg during an altercation between the East Coast Crips and the Grape Street Crips, further indication that he was involved in gang activity and stated plainly in an opinion issued by the unpublished appellate case of People v. Colvin.

The arrest report demonstrates that Ford was known to be a gang member and a potential danger to officers and civilians. In high-crime areas like Ford’s 66th Street neighborhood, police officers’ jobs are even more difficult. Areas terrorized by gang violence create unique risks and officers must address any suspicious behavior before the situation spirals out of control. Citizens living in a gang area are entitled to protection. On August 11 when Ford grabbed for one of the officer’s weapons, as indisputable evidence proves, he immediately escalated the situation, leading to his own demise. Ford was no stranger to guns, according to a KPCC 89.3 radio report stating that in 2007, Ford was arrested by sheriff’s deputies for possession of marijuana with intent to sell and for carrying a loaded firearm. He received a 90 day jail sentence according to the article.

These are all cold hard facts that the Commission should have been aware of when they were studying the case. The decision reached by the Commission and the faulty reasoning behind it was irresponsible and has the potential to put the officers who protect this city at risk, by signaling to criminals that it’s OK to grab an officer’s weapon in some situations. Interestingly, this determination was made by a Commission with absolutely zero background in law enforcement or significant experience in dealing with public safety related issues. They have no basis for their claims.

Perhaps this lack of knowledge is why, when Police Commissioner Madison spoke to NBC4’s Conan Nolan she took to racial tones, attempting to equate a perceived change in a law regarding a U.S. Supreme Court Case to “slavery” or “women’s voting rights.” This is extremely disturbing and downright offensive. Obviously, she would agree that it is not the officer’s fault that while he was struggling over his weapon he was not African American or female. Regardless of any circumstances, reaching for and taking an officer’s weapon is never, ever the right thing to do and officers must retain the right to protect themselves and the citizens around them when that happens.

The real oppression occurs when a community is heavily saturated with gang activity and that oppression comes from the gang’s criminal activity, not from law enforcement. Open narcotics sales and use, juveniles exposed to narcotics and other crime, drive by shootings, and retaliation afflicted on citizens who protest against the criminal activity, are the result. Lack of support of those officers who risk their lives by confronting gang activity will only result in less enforcement and a continued increase in crime.

We invite you to share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

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How can you trust the judgment of a Police Commission that applies the wrong legal standard?

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 06/12/2015 @ 03:53 PM

The Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners’ act of finding one officer in the Ezell Ford shooting case “out of policy” for shooting Ford as he tried to take the officer’s gun is a bizarre, ill-considered decision that demonstrates the Commission’s complete misunderstanding and erroneous application of case law, and will have terrible public safety consequences. When an officer has to choose whether or not to be proactive at the risk of possibly losing his or her career, we can only assume there would be a negative impact on public safety.

As taken from the Commission report, the facts surrounding the shooting are as follows: The officer attempted to detain Ford, suspecting he had possession of narcotics. Ford turned suddenly when the officer reached him, and tackled the officer to the ground. Ford then tried to take the officer’s gun—as evidenced by Ford’s DNA on the top and body of the officer’s holster. The partner officer shot Ford twice with no effect. With Ford still on top of the officer and trying to take his gun, the officer pulled out his backup gun and shot Ford once in the abdomen, causing Ford to go limp and allowing the officer to get out from under Ford.

The Commission used a “totality of the circumstances” review in deciding if the shooting was in policy, but went off the rails by using the wrong legal standard to guide its review. The Commission applied a holding in Hayes v. County of San Diego, a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals case that ruled that a deputy sheriff’s “tactical conduct and decisions preceding the use of deadly force were relevant considerations under California law in determining whether the use of deadly force gave rise to negligence liability.” (Emphasis added)

Hayes was incorrectly applied in this instance because the Commission concluded that the initial detention of Ford was “unjustified,” not that it was negligent. According to the Commission, “The legally inappropriate detention of the subject that led to the subsequent altercation rendered the use of deadly force unreasonable and out of policy.”

An “inappropriate detention” is a Fourth Amendment issue, not an issue of negligence as in Hayes, and the misapplication of Hayes to Fourth Amendment issues resulted in the Commission’s absurd “out of policy” decision.

If an “unreasonable detention” was the issue, the Commission’s review should have been guided by Fourth Amendment cases, not a single case involving “negligence.” For instance, in Billington v. Smith, a prior Ninth Circuit case, the court ruled that, under federal law (including the Fourth Amendment), an officer’s negligent act that provokes a violent response “will not transform an otherwise reasonable subsequent use of force into a Fourth Amendment violation.” This was reiterated in another Ninth Circuit case, Sheehan v. City and County of San Francisco, where the court ruled that only when an officer intentionally and recklessly provokes a violent confrontation he or she is liable for the otherwise defensive use of deadly force.

What is a “reasonable use of force?” The United States Supreme Court has determined “‘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.”

Applying the correct law, the shooting of Ford could have only been found “out of policy” if the detention of Ford was so unlawful and reckless that it provoked a violent confrontation. The Commission did not and could not make that finding. Even the Commission acknowledged that Ford turned suddenly and attacked the officer. The detention was not as unlawful and reckless as to provoke violence by Ford. Shooting Ford, who continued to try to take the officer’s gun even after being shot twice, was a reasonable use of force.

Equally disturbing is the Commission’s failure to follow relevant California law that holds that even if an officer makes an illegal detention, a suspect doesn’t have a free pass to try to injure or kill the officer. In the case of In Re: Richard G., a California Court wrote that it would “not immunize crimes of violence committed on a peace officer, even if they are preceded by a Fourth Amendment violation.”

The aftermath of the adjudication of the Ford shooting as “out of policy” has sent a clear message that use of force by an officer to defend his or her life will be deemed “out of policy” if the detention is determined by the Commission to be “unreasonable.” Or, put another way, the Commission seems to believe that if an officer should not have put himself in a situation requiring use of force, the officer cannot use deadly force even if his or her life is in danger.

Every person in the City of Los Angeles, police officers and residents, should be greatly concerned by the Commission’s ruling. If you are a police officer, this new misinterpretation of existing law can only be translated to mean that being proactive could cost your career if it doesn’t first cost you your life. While we have no doubt that our police officers will do their jobs, respond to calls for service, and continue to be professional, there is a legitimate and serious concern that proactive police work may become a thing of the past. Instead, “drive and wave” could become the standard for police work out of concerns that legitimate police actions will be judged by political appointees applying the wrong legal standard.

The inability and perhaps unwillingness of the Police Commission to understand and apply case law correctly has led to a terribly flawed decision on the use of force in the Ezell Ford case. As a result, public safety in Los Angeles stands to suffer.

We invite you to share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

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Commission got it wrong

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 06/11/2015 @ 03:45 PM

Steve Soboroff at the Los Angeles Police Commission meeting on June 9, 2015.

Steve Soboroff at the Los Angeles Police Commission meeting on June 9, 2015.

Since August we, along with the entire Los Angeles community, have been following the investigation of the Ezell Ford officer-involved shooting and awaiting the determinations made by Chief Beck, the Inspector General and the Police Commission.

In these reviews it was clear to us that what was found was that all of the DNA, all of the independent witnesses interviewed and all of the officers’ statements attained supported the notion that Ford attempted to take an officer’s weapon. As soon as Ford went for the officer’s weapon, he immediately escalated the situation, forcing the officers to make the decision they did in order to protect themselves and those around them. In any instance where an officer has his or her weapon attempted to be taken from them, the officer is trained to assume that the only reason the suspect is doing so is to use it against the officer or an innocent bystander. This decision was rooted in years of off- and on-duty trainings where simulations exactly like this one are played out in great detail. In short, regardless of the circumstances or what may have led up to the events, a suspect reached for an officer’s weapon and the officer reacted in the manner he was trained to do.

After reviewing the facts of the case and relying on his more than 40 years of experience as a law enforcement officer, Chief Beck determined that the officers were justified in opening fire as the suspect attempted to take one of their guns. The Board of Directors and League attorneys reached the same conclusion and such, publicly announced our support of the Chief.

Surprisingly, the Police Commission, who was privy to the same facts as Chief Beck, came away with a different conclusion. It unanimously reached a finding that left many, including the LAPPL, scratching their heads and wondering how the Commission could let the usual protesters and external political forces influence their decision on this extremely important matter. Beyond being self-serving, the decision was downright irresponsible and has the potential to put the officers that protect this city at risk by signaling to criminals that it is OK to reach for an officer’s weapon depending on the situation.

The Commission got this wrong. Instead of focusing on the multiple forms of hard evidence, including the fact that Ford was a known gang member with a lengthy criminal history of violent crimes, the Commission cited and stretched thin the “objectively reasonable” standard established in the 1989 U.S. Supreme Court case of Graham v. Connor. A standard that the court later noted should not be the primary driver determination, noting that “reasonableness must embody allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments—in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving—about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation.”

This is not the first time we have disagreed with the Commission, nor will it likely be the last. That said, there have been plenty of instances where we have agreed, even on some use of force issues in the past. We take every case as it comes and examine the facts before determining our official position, regardless of where the Commission, Chief or Inspector General stand. Recently, law enforcement has captured the nation’s attention, and all eyes are on us; however, all law enforcement leadership needs to focus on the facts at hand and not on outside pressures when making determinations that seriously affect public and officers’ safety.

We invite you to share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

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In Honor of National Police Week

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 05/15/2015 @ 02:00 PM

This week, the League and officers around the country came together to honor and remember our fallen officers for National Police Week. This meaningful week was established by a joint resolution of Congress in 1962, and has since occurred annually on the week in which May 15, Peace Officers Memorial Day, falls.

National Police Week pays special recognition to those law enforcement officers who have paid the ultimate sacrifice and laid down their lives for the safety and protection of others. Each year, thousands of police officers travel to Washington, D.C. to participate in events hosted by National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, Fraternal Order of Police and Concerns of Police Survivors.

This year, over 25,000 attendees from departments throughout the United States participated, coming together to experience a common bond, mourn a shared loss and discuss issues that affect police work on a national level. Officers partook in a variety of events including: the Police Unity Tour Arrival Ceremony, celebrating the nearly $16 million raised for the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial and Museum since 1997; the 27th Annual Candlelight Vigil, a ceremony in remembrance of those who have died; the Fraternal Order of Police DC Lodge #1 Events, a two-day outdoor networking event; the National Police Survivors Conference and C.O.P.S. Kids/Teens, an opportunity for family members and co-workers of fallen officers to prepare for trial, build connections, understand grief and receive support; the 13th Annual Steven Young National Honor Guard and Pipe Band Competition and the 21st Annual Emerald Society & Pipe Band March and Service, musical performances in tribute to fallen officers; and the 34th Annual National Peace Officers’ Memorial Service.

The LAPPL sponsors an LAPD contingent to attend both National Police Week and the California memorial ceremonies each year. The 2015 California Memorial Ceremony took place May 3 and 4, and honored 18 fallen California officers. We at the League were honored to be a part of these memorials.

These ceremonies were especially important this year, as police have faced new challenges and increased risks. In 2014, the number of law enforcement officers nationwide killed in the line of duty increased to a startling 126 officers, including LAPD officers Christopher Cortijo, Nicholas Lee and Roberto Sanchez. Of those 126 tragic deaths, 50 were the result of firearms, compared to 32 in 2013.

From New York to Baltimore, to Mississippi to our own backyard in Los Angeles, violent acts have garnered national media attention and increased tension between civilians and officers across the country. Officers have been faced with riots, protests, attacks and ambushes from the civilians they have sworn to protect. As we reflect upon the meaning of National Police Week, it is important to remember that all lives matter. We mourn all lives lost due to violence, and support our officers wholeheartedly as they work to prevent these acts of violence and get those responsible off the streets.

The Board of Directors and League staff would like to take a moment to thank our officers for their dedication and sacrifice to help keep our community safe. We cherish and honor the memories of our fallen officers by continuing to speak up for the rights, safety and best interest of our officers. We are so inspired by the great work you do every day, and are so honored to represent you.

We invite you to share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

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