LOS ANGELES (CNS) - The Los Angeles Police Commission is poised today to adopt a major shift in the way it judges police shootings, tying an officer's decision to pull the trigger to his actions in the moments leading up to the incident.
The rule change would settle years of debate over whether the commission can make a determination that a shooting violated department policy if the officer created a situation in which deadly force was necessary, the Los Angeles Times reported. Until now, the commission has generally focused on the narrow question of whether an officer faced a deadly threat at the moment he opened fire.
``This is one of the most significant policy decisions we've made in my seven years on the commission," Robert Saltzman told The Times.
Although only a few words would be added to the existing policy, Saltzman said, ``the clarification is significant. Some have interpreted our current policy to suggest the commission should ignore all the officer's pre- force activity, no matter how relevant those earlier actions are."
The proposal was submitted by the commission's inspector general, who reviews officer shootings and makes recommendations to the commission on whether they fall within or outside department policy. Along with Saltzman, it has won the support of commission President Steve Soboroff, The Times reported.
For decades, the commission has followed a multi-step process in officer shootings and other deadly force cases. Instead of making a single decision on whether the officer was right to fire, it divides incidents into separate parts. It first decides if the officer's actions leading up to the shooting were acceptable. Then it judges the officer's decision to draw his weapon, and finally the shooting itself.
Most of the time, the process works. In the majority of cases, officers are cleared of any wrongdoing. And when the commission does find that an officer made mistakes early on in an encounter, it is usually clear that those missteps did not lead to the officer's decision to use deadly force, according to The Times.
But in a few cases each year the line separating an officer's decision to fire at a suspect from his actions beforehand is difficult or impossible to find, according to The Times.