Experts, Including NYU Professor and LAPD Commissioner, Talk Use Of Force and Surveillance Technology at “Citizen Participation in Policing Policy” Forum

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By BRANDON VILLALOVOS

5:29 am | April 6, 2018


Legal experts including New York University Law Professor Barry Friedman, Los Angeles Police Commissioner Matt Johnson, and Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Inspector General Max Huntsman were featured speakers at Thursday’s public forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters Pasadena that examined the issues surrounding the concept of “democratic policing” in a modern America.

Each of the speakers has years of experience in investigations and reviews of police conduct and the discussion centered around the process of changing policing policies, use of force, and the technology that has put law enforcement under the microscope and raised debate about the relationship between communities and their police.

The forum came after a week dominated locally by news that the City of Pasadena has agreed to pay a $1.5 million settlement to the family of a local man who died in police custody in 2016.

“We talk about accountability in policing and we talk about it all the time, it needs something very different and we need accountability on the back end after things have gone wrong. And what I’d like to persuade you of today is bringing front-end accountability to policing to need citizens and police to collaborate together to make policy that everyone buys into,” said New York University Professor of Law Barry Friedman through a live video feed presentation from his office in New York.

Friedman is one of the country’s leading authorities on constitutional law, criminal procedure, and the federal courts and he writes extensively about police regulation, constitutional law and theory, federal jurisdiction, and judicial behavior.

He authored the critically-acclaimed book, The Will of the People: How Public Opinion Has Influenced the Supreme Court and Shaped the Meaning of the Constitution (2009), and the widely-discussed book on policing and the Constitution, Unwarranted: Policing without Permission, (2017), which he used to reference his presentation.

Currently, Friedman serves as the Founding Director of the Policing Project at NYU Law which is devoted to helping bring principles of democratic governance and data-driven best practices to policing, according to the project’s website.

His brief video conference at Thursday’s forum focused on the process of changing policing policies, use of force, and surveillance technology and the legal and cultural impact these issues have on society.

“Why do we care? Because any time that policies are made or specific questions that we ought to be asking don’t always get asked if the public is involved in the front end,” said Friedman.

Friedman cited a portion of a statement issued by City spokesperson Lisa Derderian this week in connection with the death of Reginald Thomas in police in 2016.

Friedman says the statement which read, “Every use of force/incident review provides an opportunity for the department to consider whether changes to policies, procedures or tactics are warranted,” is an accurate analysis of how policy change has potential to be made.

“With regard to the Thomas case, every use of force provides an opportunity for the department consider what their changes to policies are and that is exactly right and that’s the sort of thing the public should be involved with,” said Friedman.

Friedman explored how national events produced by excessive use of force incidents in recent years has potential to create hostile and militarized situations when the public expresses outrage.

For example, in 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri a black 18-year-old named Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer which set off a series of violent clashes with law enforcement.

“Ferguson brought the country’s attention to the militarization of police departments and the fact that we have programs in the country that provide the military equipment to police departments. Some of the equipment makes total sense, some of it may not, but more importantly, that is a question that every community ought to be able to decide for itself and not before Ferguson, but after Ferguson. Many communities pass laws and ordinance to do just that,” explained Friedman.

Fellow guest speaker and Vice President of the Los Angeles Police Commission Matt Johnson says that his office’s front-end approach for police oversight has been to look at three areas: policy, training, and equipment.

All three area must collaborate together for successful results, Johnson said.

“You can change the policy, but if you don’t have the training to back it up, you’re not ultimately going to change behavior or culture. And if you don’t properly equip the officers, you’re also going to limit the amount of impact that you can have,” said Johnson.

Johnson says his office aims to create policies within the LAPD that correlate with de-escalation training and other tools of knowledge as a way to ensure greater safety when out in the field.

This also helps to promote non-violent behavior by officers when encountering the public out in the field and in potentially dangerous situations.

“It’s built into the academy, and then every officer that’s on the force has to go through de-escalation training so they have the skillset to actually make it meaningful,” said Johnson.

The use of hi-tech surveillance technology is another topic the speakers analyzed, ranging from body cameras, drones, license plate readers, and more.

“They are all means of looking at something after it’s happened and asking for someone to blame as something’s gone wrong,” said Friedman.

According to the LA Times, the Sheriff’s Department used a plane to secretly shoot video footage of the streets of Compton in 2012 in order to locate criminals.

The surveillance operation was widely criticized by the community once the information came to light, in which community members said the Sheriff’s Department did not inform the public about the project prior to lift-off.

“The commission actually came out and said we don’t like the policy and the Sheriff’s Department basically said, ‘sorry, we’re keeping our drones’,” Johnson explained.

Johnson says the LAPD went about creating a drone policy much differently than the Sheriff’s Department.

“We looked at the technology and we believe along with the Sheriff’s [Department] that it is a very valuable tool for law enforcement. But like any of these things, these tools have to be used appropriately,”

The Commission held public hearings about the LAPD using drones as a way to encourage public input. A draft policy was eventually created and made available to the public and a subsequent second round of public input meetings followed.

The result? A 1-year pilot program of running the drones and seeing how they’re used by the department.

“We’ve built in very strict oversight of when the drones can be used and who actually have the authority to authorize that,” said Johnson.

“When we include the public, the policy-making up front, policy changes, and policing policy looks different, which is a clue that we ought to be thinking about this all the time,” said Friedman.