As the country grapples with the legal and social implications of police shootings, “transparency” and "accountability” have become the watchwords of public protest and official response.
The latest effort in this regard comes Thursday evening in Los Angeles when a community meeting will focus on the fatal shooting of an unarmed transient by a Los Angeles Police Department officer.
As with many such incidents in recent years, this week’s violent encounter in Los Angeles was captured on video – in this case, from a nearby security camera.
Based on the video, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck says he is “very concerned” about what happened when officers tried to intervene in a fight Tuesday night involving the homeless man – identified as Brandon Glenn – and a bouncer outside a bar along the Venice beach boardwalk.
“Any time an unarmed person is shot by a Los Angeles police officer, it takes extraordinary circumstances to justify that,” Chief Beck told reporters. “I have not seen those extraordinary circumstances.”
The LAPD “will expend all resources to find out the truth of what happened,” Beck said. One of the officers was injured in the encounter. Both Mr. Glenn and the officer who shot him are black – a point the police chief emphasized – which may help account for the absence of the kind of aggressive protest seen after police killings in Baltimore and Ferguson, Mo.
The police union representing the officer in Tuesday’s shooting was quick to criticize Beck’s comments.
“It is completely irresponsible for anyone, much less the Chief of Police, to render a judgment on an incident that is in the early stages of the investigation," Craig Lally, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, said in a statement.
“As the final trier of fact in the use-of-force investigation and disciplinary process, the premature decision by the chief essentially renders the investigation process void,” Mr. Lally said. “Additionally, by making his opinion public without having all of the facts, he influences the investigation for all parties involved, including his command officers and the public.... We encourage everyone to reserve judgment until the investigation has run its course, and the facts are collected and assessed.”
Critics of what they see as police aggression welcomed Beck’s comments.
“We thank Chief Beck for having the courage and conviction to publicly state he doesn’t see a justification for this shooting,” civil rights activist Najee Ali said at a news conference outside police headquarters. “We are asking District Attorney Jackie Lacey to fast-track this investigation. We want charges brought against the officer if what Chief Beck said is found to be accurate following an investigation.”
Beck’s quick decision to schedule a community meeting just two days after a fatal police shooting reflects the kind of transparency and accountability increasingly evident in law enforcement policies around the country.
In Salt Lake City, Police Chief Chris Burbank’s department hosts a monthly “coffee with a cop” event and maintains an active Twitter feed.
Chief Burbank releases a monthly video message educating residents about public safety programs and issues geared toward prevention. Burbank also gives talks in local schools about policing and citizens' rights during encounters with police officers.
Even some groups normally critical of the police find the Burbank’s overall approach laudable.
“I think it’s just the nature of a civil rights organization and police that there is going to be tension,” Karen McCreary, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah, told the Monitor. “We have a respectful relationship and value the way that the chief has led the police force in terms of having the orientation of serving the community.”
In Atlanta, Police Chief George Turner "has dramatically diversified the face of his department, discouraged racking up petty arrests that fall disproportionately on minorities, tapped the power of big data to institute preventive policing, and tried to create a more humane force," the Monitor’s Patrik Jonsson reported earlier this year.
Chief Turner “came in with a vision to move the department forward in terms of community policing, in terms of improving morale, and [to residents] he really portrays a very good balance of being inquisitive, wanting to learn, and wanting to make a positive difference,” Robert Friedmann, a criminal-justice professor at Georgia State University in Atlanta, told Mr. Jonsson. “He listens, and he cares.”
Like many police departments around the country, Seattle is issuing its officers small video cameras attached to their uniforms or eyeglasses. Blurry, silent versions of videos taken by officers are posted on YouTube, giving the public a chance to see what they involve while also protecting the privacy of those depicted.
A US Justice Department report released in March found that officers wearing cameras in departments around the country had 87.5 percent fewer incidents of use of force and 59 percent fewer complaints than the officers not wearing the cameras.
“The focus on police is here, it’s now and it’s staying,” Greg Meyer, a retired LAPD captain and use-of-force expert, told the Los Angeles Times. “It will become more intense in the coming months and years as more and more people video police with cell phones, and as more and more officers are issued body-worn cameras.”