LOS ANGELES (AP) — It was a seemingly innocuous announcement. The Los Angeles police chief said he would begin acknowledging officers for resolving potentially deadly situations with non-lethal means.
The Preservation of Life medal will be one of the department’s highest honors, along with the medal of valor, given out for acts of heroism, Chief Charlie Beck told the Police Commission earlier this week.
Two days later, the union that represents officers in the nation’s second-largest city wrote a blog calling the award “a terrible idea that will put officers in even more danger.”
The Los Angeles Police Protective League blog, published Thursday, said officers already are trained to preserve life and that the award “suggests that officers must go above and beyond their normal activities to avoid harm.”
That prioritizes the lives of criminals over officers and comes at a time when police feel increasingly threatened, the blog said.
“What we don’t want to see is a flag-draped coffin and the chief speaking at an officer’s funeral stating, ‘This brave officer will be awarded the Preservation of Life medal,’” the blog said.
Union President Craig Lally said the blog was published after the group’s nine-member board of directors unanimously approved it.
While Beck had good intentions, the award sends a bad message to the rank and file, Lally said.
“There might be a hesitation there,” he explained. “A lot of these shootings and situations that officers are put in happen within a millisecond and it’s over with. ... If they hesitate, they’re dead.”
When Beck presented the idea to the commission, he said the annual award would be issued to officers who “display commendable restraint in a deadly force situation.”
Beck said he wanted the commission, which is tasked with reviewing fatal officer-involved shootings, to be aware of the many times officers save lives.
He cited a recent example in which officers subdued a man who had a sawed-off rifle.
“It could have easily been an incident where deadly force was deployed but it was not,” Beck said.
The Los Angeles Times praised the award in an editorial Wednesday, saying it showed the chief was paying attention to public concerns over deadly force.
So far this year, there have been 45 officer-involved shootings in Los Angeles, double the number through the same time period last year. Nineteen of this year’s shootings have been fatal, up from 18 deaths in all of 2014 and 26 in 2011.
“Of course, an award alone won’t immediately change public opinion or police behavior,” the editorial said. “But it’s a step in the right direction.”