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LAPD Honors 25 Officers For Not Using Deadly Force In Potentially Lethal Situations

Emblem on LAPD motorcycle. (Image courtesy of Steve Devol/Flickr)
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On Thursday evening, the Los Angeles Police Department held its annual "Above & Beyond" awards ceremony, recognizing individual officers for service that exceeded the standard expectations of department officers. While the ceremony has been an annual event for decades, this year's awards ceremony included, for the first time ever, the "Preservation of Life" medal. As the L.A. Times reports, the Preservation of Life medal is reserved for officers who chose not to use deadly force in situations where lethally discharging a firearm could, according to department policy, been justified.

The medal is an example of one of the multitude of ways the police department is attempting to reduce the number of officer-involved-shooting incidents where deadly force is used. The number of police shootings nearly doubled between 2014 and 2015, prompting the L.A. Police Commission, in May, to steadfastly argue in favor of altering department policy from use of force to de-escalation. 25 officers were given the award on Thursday night, according to KCBS.

LAPD policy has continuously been criticized by activists and advocates who argue cops, too often, get off scot-free for using deadly force. That officers who shoot and kill unarmed, mentally ill and other suspects, and then are found to have acted within department policy after the fact is an extreme point of contention. For example, when the L.A. Police Commission (an independent civilian panel tasked with providing oversight on LAPD) determined that LAPD officers had acted within department policy during the shooting death of Redel Jones in 2015, protests erupted around City Hall and LAPD headquarters. Months later, several protestors remain camped outside of City Hall demanding accountability.

The Preservation of Life medal rewards officers for not using deadly force in dangerous situations, a point underscored by the narratives offered before each award was given to its recipient on Thursday evening. Officer Danielle Lopez was awarded for talking a man who was waving an assault rifle at passing street traffic to put down the weapon and move away. The weapon was later determined to be fake, but the fact remains that had officers opened fire on the man they believed to be holding an assault rifle, the inevitable (hypothetical) Police Commission investigation would likely have determined the officers acted within department policy.

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Curiously, when LAPD Chief Charlie Beck first introduced the medal last year, he was harshly criticized by the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the LAPD's police union.

Back in November of 2015, the LAPPL's board of directors published a blog post deriding the award as "a terrible idea that will put officers in even more danger." The post argued as such:

Incentivizing officers for "preservation of life" suggests somehow that this is not what they train hard to do. 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.

As for the officers who received the award at Thursday's ceremony, their actions were simply in accordance with how they had been trained to do their job. As LAPD officer Francisco Rubio explained to the Times, he was surprised when first told he was selected to receive the award. "I was shocked... For what? For doing my job? Yes, that's not a problem."

While the award is hardly the sweeping change to departmental policy activists argue for, it's certainly a step in the right direction.