(ANTIMEDIA) Los Angeles, CA — This week, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck announced the initiation of a new award intended to encourage police officers to find more peaceful resolutions to conflicts. The honorary medal was widely praised, but one group took severe, predictable offense to the gesture. A local police union, the Los Angeles Police Protective League, issued a scathing criticism of the new award — offering hollow talking points implying police officers should continue to be allowed to use violence whenever they choose.
At a meeting with the Los Angeles Police Commission on Tuesday, Beck announced the new “Preservation of Life” award. The honor will be one of the highest given to officers, alongside the medal of valor, and is intended to reduce the number of police-involved shootings and deaths. As Beck explained, the award was inspired by an officer who wrestled a suspect rather than shooting him.
He said the award would be given to officers who “display commendable restraint in a deadly force situation.” Beck highlighted a recent incident where a suspect with a sawed-off rifle was subdued without violence, noting, “It could have easily been an incident where deadly force was deployed but it was not.”
While the move was largely well-received, the Los Angeles Police Protective League was quick to drum up opposition to the new award, channeling all-too-familiar talking points parroted by police apologists.
“Incentivizing officers for ‘preservation of life’ suggests somehow that this is not what they train hard to do,” read a statement from the union’s blog. The post was entitled, “Preservation of Life award: a terrible idea that will put officers in even more danger.”
The union’s statement was approved unanimously by all nine members of the union’s board of directors. It continued:
“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.”
A glaring problem with the union’s statement is that while “lawful use of force” may be permissible, this guideline is all too often violated by police officers around the country, including the LAPD. A recent investigation by local news outlet KPCC found one quarter of all LAPD shooting victims over a five-year period were unarmed. That same report found the last time an officer was prosecuted for shooting a civilian was over fifteen years ago.
The LAPD is notorious for its excessive use of force, from its now historic beating of Rodney King to the recent, infamous shootings of Ezell Ford and a homeless man who went by “Africa.” On-duty officers have also raped female ‘suspects,’ and like the ongoing shootings of unarmed individuals, these actions could hardly be considered “lawful use of force.”
Nevertheless, the statement equated the new award with increased deaths among police officers.
“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,” the post said, invoking stark imagery to evoke emotional reaction.
Ignoring the fact that the award is not a change to policy or law, the union highlighted what it called the increasingly “dangerous” environment police officers face in the wake of high-profile shootings and cases of abuse and misconduct. It argued “anti-police rhetoric is prominent and perpetuated by the media and special interest groups.” Clearly, union officials do not watch Fox News and must be ignorant of the special interests of powerful national unions like the Fraternal Order of Police and the Police Officers Benevolent Association, which lobby aggressively to protect officers — even those who commit egregious acts of unwarranted violence.
Chief Beck himself has been scrutinized and condemned for his suppression of dissent against excessive police abuse. African-Americans and advocates seeking answers and resolutions to police violence in minority communities have accused Beck of excluding people from citizen hearings based on their race. The LAPD as a whole has also been implicated in suppressing this rightful outrage.
Though Beck’s dubious history of dealing with officer abuse and racial tensions has left many accountability activists pessimistic about his leadership, his initiation of the new award shows a small pivot in the direction of progress. Another promising facet of this award is its attempt to promote de-escalation of the tense situations that often lead officers to fire their weapons or otherwise brutalize suspects. When he announced the award, Beck even discussed racial disparities in the use of force — a rare admission from an officer with a history of disregarding such concerns.
Whether the decision to offer the Preservation of Life Award is a strictly symbolic gesture meant to pacify tangible outrage or a true effort to encourage officers to find more peaceful methods of conflict resolution, it indicates a turning tide in the police accountability movement. It might even indicate potential for more meaningful reforms in the future. As the Los Angeles Times observed: “…use of force incidents are not about to disappear. But we like the idea of a department that puts a premium on preserving life. That’s an award-winning idea.”
Meanwhile, the Police Protective League might want to take a tip from these British police officers:
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