By Eric He
The Los Angeles City Council moved forward on implementing an ordinance that would adopt the Los Angeles Police Department’s military equipment-use policy Friday, over objections from a few council members and activists who raised concerns about the LAPD’s proposed report.
The council did not vote on adopting the report Friday, but sided 9-3 to request that the city attorney prepare an ordinance, and the Board of Police Commissioners concurrently amend language regarding mutual aid requests.
Council members Mike Bonin, Marqueece Harris-Dawson and Nithya Raman voted against the item. The item was pursuant to Assembly Bill 481, which was passed last year in response to the murder of George Floyd in an attempt to increase the accountability and transparency of law enforcement. AB 481 requires all law enforcement agencies in California to establish and publish policies governing the use of military equipment. The policies must be approved by the city council, and agencies must publish annual public reports on using and acquiring military equipment beginning next year.
Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez, chair of the Public Safety Committee, voted in favor but said the proposed report would be discussed at the Board of Police Commissioners meeting on Tuesday, noting that she saw some vague observations and notations on the report.
Bonin said he was concerned that the LAPD’s definitions of when military equipment can be used are “much too vague to meet the standards and the intent of the legislation.” For instance, the proposed report states that robots can be used “when their functionality will enhance safety during an operation.”
“That’s a big, big, big definition,” Bonin said. “I think it would be appropriate to have far more concrete and finite definitions of when things can be used. In that definition, whose safety is being enhanced? Is it the general public? Is it members of the department? There’s questions about who we’re referring to here and what that means, because almost anything can arguably meet the definition that is this broad.”
Bonin urged his colleagues to speak up more about use of force by police.
The council also voted Friday to approve a report detailing all police shootings in 2021, and request that the LAPD provide a bi-annual report on the number of police shootings with details on each incident. That report found there were 37 shootings by the Los Angeles Police Department in 2021, the highest number since 2017. As of August, five of the 2021 shootings had been found to be out of policy out of 25 adjudicated by the Police Commission, LAPD representatives said at an Aug. 3 Public Safety Committee meeting.
“(Police shootings) don’t get talked about enough in these legislative chambers,” Bonin said. “There’s a lot of big headlines about smash-and-grab robberies, and we take action. But there is not the same level of attention and scrutiny — and therefore action — when it comes to officer-involved shootings.”
Bonin added that the LAPD is tasked with a wide array of responsibilities, including addressing homelessness, mental health issues, traffic and crowd control.
“We rely on police for everything,” Bonin said. “So this requires a lot of scrutiny.”
Raman didn’t believe the proposed report did enough to meet the requirements of AB 481, claiming it didn’t offer sufficient alternatives to military equipment that the LAPD either has or plans to acquire, such as tactical SUVs.
“This law was passed after a collective recognition around questions about police departments across the country that accumulated a large amount of military-grade equipment,” Raman said. “We have an opportunity to really work on that question here in L.A., to really think about what we need in order to ensure public safety.
“I think we shouldn’t just rush to rubber stamp what we’re doing. I think we can really grapple with these questions in a more serious way, and take this opportunity to restore trust seriously.”
Hamid Khan of the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition said he believes policies like AB 481, while increasing transparency, provide a cover for police.
“They mask the violence,” Khan told City News Service. “They legitimize the use of these operations and provide more opportunities to expand these programs under the guise of transparency and reporting and accountability.”
Several members of Stop LAPD Spying Coalition offered stinging public comments at the meeting opposing the item. They laughed when Rodriguez mentioned the “policy-making body in the Police Commission” and heckled the council as they left the chamber following the vote.
Other local organizations weighed in on the proposed report ahead of the meeting.
The American Friends Service Community issued a statement urging the city council to revise the policy to incorporate “community concerns” and to “fully comply with the law.” The organization claimed the LAPD failed to define “authorized uses” in the policy, specifically the circumstances under which a weapon is authorized for use.
The League of Women Voters of Greater Los Angeles sent recommended changes to the council, which also included requesting clarity on when a weapon is permitted and prohibited from use — for instance, the phrase “the existence of certain factors” on page nine of the equipment report.
Carolina Goodman, chair of the League of Women Voters of Greater Los Angeles’ committee on criminal justice reform, told City News Service that an LAPD representative was receptive to the changes that the group offered and would work with them next year in adjusting the language.
Goodman said the group got involved in the policy after the LAPD fired a less-lethal round at a protester at a rally following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade in June.
“I believe that LAPD and their policy wants to protect the rights of peaceful protesters,” Goodman said. “I just want to make sure that their policy is consistent and that the training of their officers is clear: that military equipment can only be used when there is a threat to life.”