Every day when Los Angeles Police officers pin on their badges and prepare to protect and to serve, they’re reminded of what they learned as Academy recruits: a reverence for human life. Los Angeles Police Department officers are never trained to “shoot to kill,” only to stop a deadly threat in order to keep the community and themselves safe. This isn’t a rhetorical turn-of-phrase or semantic contrivance, but a real world reality: taking a life — anyone’s life — is never our intent. It’s a tragedy when it occurs for everyone involved and for the City of Los Angeles.
On January 14th around 3:30 am, two officers from LAPD’s Pacific Division responded to calls for help and confronted a naked, unarmed, 25-year old man jumping on cars and behaving erratically. After trying several times to detain the man, they ended up on the ground in a struggle with Reggie Doucet Jr., a six-foot, 190-pound former college football defensive-back. One of the officers shot Mr. Doucet who was then transported to a local hospital where he died as a result of his injuries. Both officers were injured and were transported to a local hospital.
This entire incident is a tragedy. My heart goes out to all involved, from Mr. Doucet’s family, to his loved ones and his friends, as well as to the officers involved. In meetings with community leaders shortly after this tragic event occurred, I expressed deep sympathy for their loss. I assured them that this incident would be fully and objectively investigated. And it will. As the investigation continues, I will provide the facts in the most transparent manner I can without compromising the investigation.
Understandably, some wonder how it’s legal for police to use deadly force against unarmed suspects. LAPD policy is based on the 1989 Supreme Court ruling in Graham v. Conner in which the court mandated application of an “Objectively Reasonable Standard.” Under this guideline, officers are trained to evaluate the severity of the crime the suspect is committing or is about to commit and the likelihood his or her behavior will inflict serious injury to an officer or other person. If a suspect’s behavior is likely to cause serious bodily harm, injury or death, officers are, by law, justified in using deadly force to defend themselves and others. Indeed, many people have died at the hands of unarmed killers and many police officers are slain by unarmed suspects who gain control of officers’ weapons. No less than 44 officers died this way between 1998-2008; at least two in 2009. Only a rigorous and exacting investigation can determine whether the use of deadly force in this instance was objectively reasonable. Whenever officers use deadly force, the LAPD’s Force Investigation Division (FID) conducts an extensive and thorough investigation. Next, a Use of Force Review (UOFR) Board is convened on all incidents involving use of deadly force, where the use of force requires hospitalization of the arrestee or results in a death. The Board submits its findings and recommendations to me, the Chief of Police, and I review the case. I have to decide whether the force was within Department policy and the law, and present my findings and recommendations to the Board of Police Commissioners. The L.A. County District Attorney’s Office independently investigates the use of force, as does the Inspector General (IG), which monitors the ongoing investigation and conducts its own independent review. Both are totally separate from the LAPD. They do not report to me. The IG’s office submits its findings and recommendations to the Police Commission, which makes the final decision as to whether or not a shooting falls within Department policy.
Certain things are already known: We know that if a suspect takes or tries to take an officer’s gun by force, it’s reasonable to assume he or she intends to kill that officer and possibly others. As recently as November 2010, Riverside Officer Ryan Bonaminio was likely killed with his own duty weapon. A few weeks ago, the Police Chief of Ranier, Oregon, struggled with an unarmed suspect. The Chief was killed with his own gun.
And we know, every single day, law enforcement officers in Los Angeles place themselves at life-threatening risk to keep the rest of us safe. What’s more, they consider it a privilege to do so and so do I.
Keeping the people of Los Angeles safe is our highest priority. Major crime rates may be at decade-low levels, but the threat of deadly violence is always present. LAPD continuously looks at ways to improve our policies and training. In fact, in 2009, we made further changes to our Use of Force Policy making it even more concise, more easily understood and consistent with prevailing law and law enforcement best practice.
While both Mr. Doucet and the officer involved in this incident are African-American, some have alleged race played a role in this tragedy. Though that seems unlikely, I ask all concerned to withhold judgment until the facts are in and we can make a reasoned determination based on actual circumstances, available evidence and provable facts. To those who protect and serve the City of Los Angeles, we owe them that much and more.