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Video as “evidence”—A cautionary tale

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 06/25/2014 @ 03:21 PM

When viewed by itself and without any context, this video looked troubling. It showed three Los Angeles Police Department officers wrestling with a young skateboarder while a fourth officer appeared to punch him in the face.

An easy case of police brutality, right?


A Los Angeles federal jury unanimously rejected the civil rights lawsuit that Ronald Weekley Jr., a 20-year-old Venice man, filed in connection with his August 2012 police encounter. Weekley was initially stopped for skateboarding on the wrong side of a Venice street.

Public reaction to the cell phone video was predictable: How could the LAPD do this? How could officers beat a defenseless young man for no obvious reason?

As we said in August 2012 when the video surfaced, “While Mr. Weekley claims excessive use of force, it is important to remember that partially recorded police action can easily misrepresent what actually occurred. That is why it is important to know all the facts in this case and not rush to judgment. It is also important for everyone to understand that it is required by law to follow an officer’s lawful commands. We already know that the partial videotape does not tell the whole story. If, as appears in this case, the recording begins toward the end of the incident, then crucial context which explains the necessity of the use of force is not captured.”

The members of the jury wisely saw the bigger picture. After examining all of the facts, and not simply focusing on the most sensational piece of “evidence,” the jury rejected the plaintiff’s claim that police used excessive force against him because of his race. The jury concluded the officers did nothing wrong and the LAPD was not liable.

While we are grateful for the jury’s decision, this case was a cautionary tale about the importance in refraining from jumping to conclusions based on snippets of evidence. While outwardly compelling, a video does not depict what occurred before and after an incident. A video simply depicts a few moments in time; it does not provide context and may not reveal the subtleties behind an encounter, what led up to it, and the totality of what occurred during it.

In this instance, the video did not show that the skateboarder tried to flee from police, requiring officers to use force to handcuff and subdue him.

Police work is not just dangerous, it’s heavily nuanced. In this case, “excessive force” turned out to be a justified and logical response by highly trained professionals to a specific set of rapidly evolving circumstances.

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

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Supreme Court decision allows release of police officers’ names after shootings

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 06/04/2014 @ 12:34 PM

As police officers, we know before entering the Academy that the job comes with risks. We know it’s a dangerous job, and that every person we encounter on a routine traffic stop or a domestic violence response might have a gun that they’re prepared to use. We’re willing to accept those risks because we believe in public service and fulfilling our duties. Our calling is to help and protect people and to improve society in whatever way we can. Thus, we are disappointed in the state Supreme Court ruling that California police departments shall not have a blanket right to conceal the names of officers involved in shootings.

California Supreme Court Associate Justice Ming Chin recognized the threats we face in his dissent opinion regarding the Los Angeles Times’ lawsuit seeking to force the Long Beach Police Department to release the names of officers involved in shootings. Unfortunately, the rest of the judicial bench did not agree and the court majority ruled in favor of the Times. Nevertheless, their judgment is the last word on this vital issue to the law enforcement community throughout California. In spite of the ruling, we will continue doing our part in vigilantly protecting the safety and privacy of all our police officers.

The concerns of the law enforcement community stem beyond privacy; they land primarily on the safety of our police officers. Officers identified as having shot and, in some cases, killed suspects, are in immediate danger because police shootings stoke strong emotions amongst the families of the suspects, those who’ve had a bad experience with the criminal justice system and those who instinctually equate use of force with police brutality and misconduct.

The reality of the Internet age is that with a credit card and a computer, access to an individual’s personal information is easily available. Addresses, spouse’s name, employer and children’s names are obtainable. Officers involved in shootings—and their families—are prime targets for revenge. Releasing the names of these officers creates a pathway for vengeance or anyone’s twisted concept of “justice.” To deny this safety to them is, at best, naïve.

The Times argues the public has a right to know the names of officers involved in shootings. We argue officers—and their wives, husbands and children—have a right to safety and to minimize the targets that they already are. We cannot afford to wait for a death of an officer or of an officer’s family member to spur legislation to correct the court’s decision.

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

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Thank you for helping us grieve

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 05/09/2014 @ 10:10 AM

The Los Angeles Police Protective League would like to thank the community for their outpouring of support as the LAPD mourns the loss of three police officers in the line of duty this year.

Last week, Officer Roberto Sanchez was killed by a hit-and-run driver. In March, Officer Nick Lee was killed when his patrol car was hit by a garbage truck and in April, LAPD Motorcycle Officer Chris Cortijo died after he was struck by an alleged DUI driver.

While LAPD officers are first responders on a daily basis to violent crimes, rape victims, victims of assaults and/or car crashes, the recent deaths of three beloved brother officers has been devastating to the men and women of the LAPD. The duties of a police officer entail confronting situations that often cause considerable emotional distress, and it’s not uncommon for post-traumatic stress disorder to manifest itself after these types of events.

In this time of grieving, it’s been comforting to see officers and the community join together to honor and memorialize those lost in the line of duty. In just days, police memorial ceremonies will take place across the country in recognition of National Police Week. Meanwhile, yesterday at the Police Administration Building, the Department honored all officers lost in the line of duty with its Annual Memorial Ceremony. And over the weekend, a contingent of LAPD personnel will be heading to Washington, D.C., to join in the various ceremonies taking place during National Police Week. These memorial ceremonies remind us about the dangers and ultimate sacrifices officers make.

While officers have united in support of one another during these trying times, we cannot say enough about the outpouring of compassion and support that rank and file officers have received from the community these past several weeks. The notes, flowers, and food brought to area police stations has touched officers deeply and has provided the Department with a great deal of comfort and solace during this difficult time.

To the countless individuals who have reached out to offer their comfort and support to us, on behalf of all LAPD officers, we want to say thank you.

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

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City Attorney Mike Feuer: Putting Public Safety First

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 03/20/2014 @ 03:53 PM

Los Angeles City Attorney, Mike Feuer.

Los Angeles City Attorney, Mike Feuer.

L.A.’s proactive, results-oriented city attorney walks and talks public safety first. In suing Time Warner Cable last week to collect nearly $10 million he alleged is owed to the City, Feuer noted the money is needed to fund programs that affect the lives of local taxpayers.

According to the city attorney, Time Warner is required to pay the City a franchise fee to install cable wires and boxes under city streets, on telephone poles and elsewhere in the “public-right-of-way.” Until 2009, the cable provider was also required to pay a fee toward providing public, governmental and education television programming, including allowing the public use of its studios.

Mike Feuer showed he clearly has his priorities straight when he said at a news conference on Friday:

“The money we allege in this complaint would fund 100 police officers. It would fund 50 miles of sidewalk repair. It would fund the trimming of 60,000 trees in the city. It’s real, it’s material, and it’s time the taxpayers of L.A. received an amount of money that, relative to the billions of dollars that Time Warner derives from its franchise here in Los Angeles, is very nominal for them. It’s material for us.”

Feuer has been in office for less than a year, but his public safety priorities are already benefiting the city. He is doubling the neighborhood prosecutor program and is working with the LAPD to enforce new rules passed by the voters restricting marijuana dispensaries. As a result, he has shut down over 100 illegal dispensaries.

We appreciate and salute the city attorney and his staff for watching the backs of Los Angeles residents and serving as a role model for all elected officials by putting public safety first.

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

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The high cost of LAPD cutbacks at LAX

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 03/18/2014 @ 12:34 PM

Public safety officials, including LAPD, LAFD and others converge in LAX during the aftermath of the November 1, 2013 shooting.

Public safety officials, including LAPD, LAFD and others converge in LAX during the aftermath of the November 1, 2013 shooting.

The following is an Op-Ed by LAPPL President Tyler Izen published in Sunday’s Los Angeles Daily News. The article, headlined “The high cost of LAPD cutbacks at LAX” notes with alarm that the LAPD deployment at LAX is at its lowest level since 2001. It calls on Mayor Garcetti to reinstate positioning LAPD officers on a voluntary, overtime basis at each TSA security checkpoint at LAX as part of corrective actions to take in response to last November’s shooting at LAX, as well as the increase in violent crime reported at the airport. For one of the world’s busiest airports, as well as an acknowledged top terrorist target, LAX clearly needs to have the needed sworn personnel to maintain security and keep public safety first.

With LAPD’s deployment at LAX at its lowest level since 2001, it came as no surprise when airport officials recently reported a 10 percent increase in overall crime in 2013, and a nearly 500 percent increase in violent crimes – from only three in 2012 to 14 in 2013. The violent crimes included 10 aggravated assaults, two robberies, a rape and the November 1 killing of a Transportation Security Administration officer, the first TSA officer killed in the line of duty.

As the many agencies involved in securing the world’s sixth busiest airport finish their after-action reports on the Nov. 1 shooting, they would do well to focus as much or more of their attention on preventing the next criminal act at LAX as they do on figuring out how to better respond when one occurs.

The airport police union apparently shares our concerns. The latest edition of the Los Angeles Airport Peace Officers Association’s (LAAPOA) newsletter states:

Increased crime rate figures at LAX released this week underscore what LAAPOA has been pointing out in the media and will be publicly focusing on this year: Airport officials need to look beyond physical airport improvements and focus on investing in airport security, not only by replacing airport officers lost to attrition, but increasing the ranks.

After the El Al ticket counter shooting on July 4, 2002, then-Mayor James Hahn moved quickly to place LAPD officers at each TSA checkpoint inside LAX’s nine passenger terminals. His smart idea was to free LAX airport police to provide high-visibility patrols of the airport from its perimeter to the terminal interiors.

With that bold step, Mayor Hahn hardened the target and made LAX a model for airport security nationwide. He and his successor, Antonio Villaraigosa, believed it was essential that an armed police officer stood between the non-sterile airport and the sterile area just beyond each TSA checkpoint. Without that officer in place at the checkpoint on November 1, 2013, Paul Anthony Ciancia was able to take control of Terminal 3 until officers on patrol shot him. A gunman in control of a passenger terminal is a scary proposition when you consider all the people in LAX’s crowded terminals, and that he has access to aircraft departing or arriving at the terminal.

According to data from the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training, LAX Airport Police ranks declined from 514 on January 1, 2010, to 495 on January 1, 2014. This reduction came as Los Angeles World Airports phased out LAPD sworn officers who were protecting the TSA checkpoints. It also ended the high visibility LAPD motorcycle patrols of the Central Terminal Area. The net effect is a reduction of approximately 80 to 100 sworn officers (LAPD and LAX Airport Police) protecting LAX in the last three years. This led to the noticeable degradation of airport security – creating an environment conducive to a terrorist attack and the sudden rise in airport crime.

The specter of terrorism is still with us, but it now lurks in the back of our minds rather than in the foreground as it once did. It is impossible to know with precision what will be next in crime trends and safety risk, but terrorism will be a threat for years to come.

Since 9/11, there have been 41 domestic terrorist plots, including the arrest in 2012 of four Southern Californians heading to Afghanistan. While we cannot predict where terrorists will strike next, transportation systems top the list of potential targets.

Recognizing that the money to pay for public safety comes from taxpayers, our investment needs to be wise, effective and smart. The public deserves a reasonable return on investment. For that reason, Los Angeles must invest in technology and training – and our Department must collaborate and coordinate with surrounding jurisdictions to maximize the effect of public safety expenditures.

At LAX, corrective action must be taken without delay. Mayor Garcetti should direct his airport department to reinstate stationing a police officer at podiums at each of the score of TSA checkpoints around the airport as had been the case from 2002 to 2013. These fixed podiums must not be staffed at the expense of high-visibility vehicle checkpoints at the entrance (as recommended by RAND) to the airport and uniformed patrols throughout the airport. They are an important deterrent.

The mayor and City Council should direct the airport department to utilize off-duty Los Angeles Police Department officers to provide the armed officers needed at the TSA passenger screening checkpoints until airport police ranks can be expanded to provide the incremental personnel needed to maintain a hardened target.

We realize that augmenting the airport police with off-duty LAPD police costs money. Fortunately, the funds will come not from city taxpayer dollars, but rather from the airport’s self-generating budget. With billions of dollars being spent on construction projects at LAX, this is no time to pinch pennies on safety and security. All those construction projects, after all, will be of little value if people don’t feel safe going to the airport to catch a flight.

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

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A reprieve in the prison overcrowding drama

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 03/11/2014 @ 09:19 AM

The stakes were high. California was under a court order to shed at least 7,000 more inmates, beginning in April, to relieve prison overcrowding. Gov. Brown appealed for more time to deal with the prison crisis.

Recently, a three-judge panel granted a rare reprieve, extending the deadline to February 2016 to reduce the state prison population from 144 percent of capacity to 137.5 percent.

The court’s decision was seen as a legal and political win for the governor. We see it also as a win for law-abiding residents of California and the LAPD, as the cost of realignment has been expensive.

Last week’s court decision is not without strings. The judges will appoint a compliance officer with the power to release inmates if the state misses interim deadlines for easing the overcrowding.

The judges also ordered a series of measures to either release or move inmates from state prisons. These include: increase credits for nonviolent second-strike offenders and minimum custody inmates; set earlier parole eligibility for some nonviolent offenders; ease parole for inmates who are older than 60 and have already served at least 25 years in prison; and expand alternative custody programs for female inmates.

Still, the court’s decision is good news as it gives the governor time to pursue using rehabilitation programs to reduce prisoner head counts.

We congratulate Gov. Brown for successfully pursuing any and all legal avenues to prevent the sudden release of inmates this spring. We also thank the federal judges for their decision that puts public safety first.

Recent LAPPL blogs on the overcrowding issue:

Prison realignment: Hope meets reality

Two years into prison realignment, do you know where your car is?

LAPD resources drained by prisoner realignment

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

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High Court ruling affirms LAPD officers’ actions

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 02/27/2014 @ 09:19 AM

Mark Wilson / Getty Images / February 25, 2014

(Mark Wilson / Getty Images / February 25, 2014)

The Los Angeles Times editorial board isn’t happy, but we could not be more satisfied that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled this week in favor of Los Angeles police officers in a key ruling on home searches.

The court ruled 6 to 3 that when occupants of a dwelling disagree on whether they will admit police without a warrant, the objecting occupant must be physically present. The ruling built on a 2006 decision in which the court said the consent of one person was not enough to allow police into a dwelling when another occupant is present and objects.

The rules don’t change if police have removed the objector, the court said – precisely what happened after Walter Fernandez was arrested and removed from his home.

Fernandez told the LAPD officers that they could not search his home without a warrant. The officers arrested him and took him to the police station, having followed him from the scene of a robbery. They then returned and got permission from a woman living with Fernandez, Roxanne Rojas, to let them look around. The officers found plenty of evidence – enough to earn Fernandez a 14-year prison sentence.

“An occupant who is absent due to a lawful detention or arrest stands in the same shoes as an occupant who is absent for any other reason,” Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote for the majority. Alito said there was no need for officers to obtain a warrant. When they arrived the first time, having followed Fernandez from the scene of a robbery, Rojas answered the door crying, with a bump on her nose and blood on her hands and shirt.

“Denying someone in Rojas’ position the right to allow the police to enter her home would also show disrespect for her independence,” Alito continued. “Having beaten Rojas, petitioner would bar her from controlling access to her own home until such time as he chose to relent.”

The Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures is an important tenant of Americans’ freedom. That is why police generally need a warrant for their actions. But there are and need to be common sense exceptions, such as when an occupant of a dwelling consents. In Tuesday’s decision, the High Court further clarified the circumstances under which an exception may occur.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Stephen G. Breyer joined Justice Alito in the majority ruling. We thank them for their wisdom and understanding of what it takes to protect the safety and rights of law abiding citizens.

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

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Prison realignment: Hope meets reality

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 01/24/2014 @ 03:45 PM

Advocates were wishing and hoping that California’s high recidivism rate – the percentage of inmates who commit new crimes soon after release from prison – would decline when prison realignment took hold. The idea was that as the state downsized its prison population by 25,000 by transferring inmates to county jails, local officials would be better able to provide community-based corrections that would reduce recidivism.

Skeptics (we were and are among them) understood that limited jail space for parole violators meant that counties would end up releasing inmates early and that already overloaded probation officers would have difficulty monitoring with an increased workload. We were also concerned that the program was underfunded.

We are now getting a clearer picture of what is happening in the real world.

One of the best sources to date for evaluating the realignment program is a recently published analysis of state data by the Sacramento Bee. The data shows about 60 percent of parolees released to counties from October 2011 through September 2012 were arrested for new offenses within 12 months of leaving prison. This is compared to the CDCR’s report released back in 2012 that indicates an average recidivism rate of 47.4 percent after one year. Contrary to the hopes of realignment advocates, this latest data indicates the state’s recidivism rate has increased by more than 12 percent rather than decreased.

In addition, the state’s failure to provide notice to counties when releasing dangerous, violent felons is the latest broken promise of the governor’s realignment program that endangers public safety. Governor Brown has the ability to immediately reduce prison overcrowding and eliminate the need for realignment by expanding existing contracts with in-state and out-of-state detention facilities.

As Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich pointed out, the public was promised that realignment would:

  • Only shift low-risk offenders to county probation departments. However, less than 2 percent of the offenders are low risk, while over 60 percent are very high or high risk and 37 percent are medium risk.
  • Save the state money. However, the budget of the California Department of Corrections increased by $200 million after realignment.
  • Help the state meet the requirements of the federal court order to reduce prison overcrowding.

This has proven to not be the case.

We’re hardly surprised. While some may argue it’s still too early to assess the impact of prison realignment on the recidivism rate, the fact remains that realignment is not working as its sponsors had hoped. For starters, it is underfunded for the role counties are expected to play in the program. Another big problem is that program sponsors pledged only non-violent, low-level offenders would be sent to county jails. But according to the Bee, that is not what is actually happening. In realignment’s first year, 16 percent of new arrests for county parolees were for violent crimes, including 41 murders!

As more data becomes available, we will continue to closely track the effects of reducing the state’s prison population.

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

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