Now that the 16-page Lakewood Police Department’s (LPD) Use of Force Policy is in hand,questions recently raised as to whether certain specific parameters were included – or not – can now be answered.
Shortly before midnight on June 18, twenty-eight year old Patrick O’Meara was shot dead at a Tillicum residence by Lakewood Police. In a follow-up article on June 24, Lt. Chris Lawler stated that the four officers at the scene believed the cap pistol O’Meara was holding at the time was a firearm – a weapon he was reportedly told multiple times by police, who had announced their presence, to drop according to Lawler. “He refused,” wrote Lawler, “and forced officers to fire their weapons.”
In light of three weapons-involved incidents over the past month-and-a-half to which Lakewood officers were called, all with different outcomes, an inquiry as to procedure seemed appropriate. What follows is what might and should be expected of public servants and the responsibility of community leadership to address in a public forum life-and- as it turns out -death issues.
Does the LPD’s Force Response document have a preamble or mission statement the purpose of which “is to communicate both to the community and to police officers that the preservation of human life is at all times a central tenet of the police agency”?
Unless this preamble or mission statement precedes the material received, the answer is no.
This statement – with an emphasis upon valuing and preserving human life above the use of force – was the recommendation of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) that was being investigated by the ACLU with the results published in a 2012 report that reviewed Use of Force Policies from various police departments and law enforcement agencies in Los Angeles, Denver, Louisville, Portland (Oregon), Philadelphia, and Washington DC.
There is this however in the LPD material that introduces “Force Response By Officers,” 1.3.
“Philosophy: The Lakewood Police Department strives to deliver police services as efficiently and unobtrusively as possible. Police Department members attempt to obtain voluntary compliance if the situation permits, recognizing that a subject’s decisions cannot be controlled. It is recognized that officers are expected to make split-second decisions and that the amount of time available to evaluate and respond to changing circumstances may impact an officer’s decision. While various degrees of force exist, each officer is expected to use only that degree of force reasonable under the circumstances perceived by the officer at the time of the event to successfully accomplish the legitimate law enforcement purpose and bring the incident under control.”
A second concern and specific recommendation of the ACLU, in keeping with life-over-force preambles, was that “an officer may withdraw to a position that is tactically more secure or allows an officer greater distance in order to consider or deploy a greater variety of force options.”
Is there, in the LPD Use of Force Policy, this de-escalation step?
Under “Definitions”, C. “necessary” is defined according to RCW 9A.16.010(1):
“‘Necessary’ means that no reasonably effective alternative to the use of force appeared to exist and that the amount of force used was reasonable to affect the lawful purpose intended.”
This is followed by the LPD’s definition of “Reasonable Belief: Facts, circumstances or knowledge presented to the officer are sufficient to justify a thought or feeling they or another person was in danger at the time the force was used.”
With those definitions as a print-out, “Force Factors” to be actually employed in practice are then enumerated. Two of particular note with regards O’Meara are “the conduct of the individual being confronted” and another being the “proximity of weapons.”
Still a further, albeit somewhat nondescript judgment call, is the “availability of other options (what resources are reasonably available to the officer under the circumstances.)”
Under the section “When Deadly Force is Authorized,” there is this:
“An officer may employ deadly force when that officer has a reasonable and objective belief that a suspect poses an imminent threat of serious physical harm to the officer or others, or the officer has a reasonable and objective belief that the suspect poses an imminent threat of serious physical harm to the officer or others should arrest be delayed and a warning to stop is first given to the suspect, if feasible.”
Warning shots are not authorized but “less lethal force” is:
1.3.4 “Principle: When less lethal force is appropriate officers should assess the incident in order to determine which less lethal technique or weapon will best de-escalate the incident and bring it under control in a safe manner.”
And later in justifying the legal application of necessary force, “in no situation are officers required to use less force than is being threatened by a subject.”
Animal Control Officers, on the other hand, “should plan an avenue of retreat and/or means to create distance for safety” when a human subject proves aggressive.