The Los Angeles Police Department takes the use of force by its officers very seriously, and the practice constitutes less than 1 percent of all arrests made by the department, the commanding officer of the LAPD Northeast Division told a community meeting Thursday evening.
“Obviously, in the LAPD, we’d rather not have three incidents in two or three weeks, but it can happen,” Capt. Bill Murphy said, referring to the public outcry over violent confrontations that officers had with two women and a 20-year-old man whose videotaped arrests prompted LAPD Chief Charlie Beck to conduct community meetings in all the department’s 21 stations. (Murphy said he was on not on duty during that entire period, having recently returned from a four-week vacation.)
“In any use of force situation, whether it’s relatively minor, like a twist of the arm” or something more serious, the LAPD conducts thorough investigations that could result in senior officers in the chain of command being held accountable, Murphy said. “Please have faith in us—we take this very seriously,” he added.
About 30 people from neighborhoods spanning Cypress Park, Eagle Rock, Highland Park, Mount Washington, Glassell Park, Silver Lake and Los Feliz attended the roughly 90-minute meeting at the Northeast Station on San Fernando Road.
As Murphy spoke in a room on the Northeast station’s second floor, an LAPD captain at the center of one of the three videotaped scandals stood by without saying a word.
The officer, Capt. Joseph Hiltner, was transferred to the Northeast Division from the Foothill Division last week for allegedly failing to take action against two officers accused of using excessive force during the videotaped arrest of a woman pulled over for a cell phone violation.
Hiltner, whose rank was downgraded, has filed a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, and accused Chief Beck of retaliating against him for defending an officer who was reprimanded by the LAPD high command.
Two Types of ‘Use of Force’
Murphy explained that the LAPD resorts to use of force in two ways. The first is what he called “non-categorical” use of force, in which officers may use batons to subdue suspects or resort to such tactics as arm locks and twists.
Even in such relatively minor use of force, LAPD procedure requires an arresting officer’s supervisor to visit the scene of the arrest and initiate an investigation that goes up the chain of command all the way to the LAPD’s Use of Force Review Division “to determine if the use of force was appropriate,” Murphy said.
The other type of use of force is termed “categorical,” Murphy said, referring to Wednesday’s incident in the LAPD’s Rampart Division in which officers shot and wounded an armed man downtown following an hour-long car chase. (LAPD Central Bureau Deputy Chief José Perez, whose command extends over the Northeast as well as the Rampart areas, was present throughout the community meeting and is pictured here.)
Categorical use of force incidents trigger an even greater number of procedures that may require surrounding neighborhoods to be locked down for as long as 12 to 15 hours, Murphy said. During this time, not just the LAPD but the District Attorney’s office conducts a thorough investigation to determine if officers responded appropriately to the situation, the captain explained.
Crime and Use of Force in Northeast LA
In the Northeast Division over the past year, there have been 61 incidents of non-categorical use of force, one incident involving categorical use of force, and once incident in which officers used a Taser gun to subdue a suspect, Murphy said.
The use of force is correlated to an area’s crime rate. The higher the crime rate, the greater the use of force tends to be, Murphy said, taking the opportunity to present some crime statistics.
The Northeast area had seven homicides last year—one less than the previous year, Murphy said. But “we’re 1 percent up in crime this year and that turns my stomach.”
About 50 percent of all crime in the Northeast is auto-related, Murphy said, reminding the audience to be careful about not leaving personal belongings in vehicles and taking steps to safeguard against vehicle break-ins.
Monitoring Released Prisoners
In response to a question from a Los Feliz resident about whether a recent spike in burglaries in the neighborhood might be connected to the release of people convicted of low-level felonies from overcrowded state prisons and county jails, Murphy said that there are about 130 such released prisoners in the Northeast area.
“We’re tracking them—when they do any type of crime we’re on it right away,” Murphy said. One sergeant and four officers are assigned to monitor the released prisoners, Murphy said, adding: “So, what the state used to do, we do.” The number of prisoners released under AB 109, a law that Gov. Jerry Brown signed in April 2011, increases every month, however, the captain explained, because “every month they release more and more of them.”
All in all, the LAPD strives to be “the best police department you want us to be,” Murphy said. “We’ve worked extremely hard to build up our community relations—we’re not perfect, we’re going to have hiccups from time to time, but we want to win your trust,” the captain said, adding: “Over the years we’ve done that—we certainly don’t want to lose it now.”