LAPD Chief Michel Moore on ‘defunding the police,’ use of deadly force, and gang database

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Protestors and Black Lives Matter activists are drumming up support for The People’s Budget, which would cut funding from the city’s police department and reallocate that money for social programs, for schools, and for help in low-income areas of LA. 

Activists say the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) has become militarized, that it has used lethal and non-lethal force against people of color, and used dangerous weapons against mostly peaceful protestors. 

The LAPD is being sued, and has been sued several times for using unnecessary force, which has cost the city millions of dollars. 

KCRW talks about all this with Michel Moore, who’s been with the force for some 40 years. He’s been the police chief for the last two of those years.

KCRW: The city is talking about replacing LAPD officers with unarmed service providers for certain kinds of emergency calls. A councilman is suggesting that people should perhaps come from the Department of Transportation to handle routine traffic stops. How far can that go? How far do you think it should go?

Michel Moore: “We welcome the conversation in reexamining what are the activities that we actually have law enforcement responsible for? And I believe that we've been asked for far too long to do too much. ... The 911 call system in American policing, not just here in LA, is the de facto helpline for any and all needs the public has. 

Typically in instances of a person who's experiencing a mental crisis, a person who may be experiencing homelessness, an outreach worker, a counselor or provider could come out and have that contact. Those are great opportunities. I think we have tens of thousands of calls in … non-law enforcement matters. But because of the absence of other social programs and social services, LAPD or LA Fire is the de facto agency. 

… We are experiencing some of the safest times in our history and generationally. This last year, we had the lowest number of homicides, for instance, in Los Angeles that we've had since the early 60s as far as per capita crime rate. 

We’re also seeing the lowest levels of use of deadly force — 26 officer-involved shootings last year in Los Angeles, the lowest number in more than 30 years. … You go back 20-30 years … we had over 100 officer-involved shootings. Still too much use of force and deadly situations. And I look forward to the ability for us to detangle ourselves from social problems and ills that right now LAPD appears to be the default answer.”

You said you've been asked far too many times to do far too much. What do you mean by that? 

“I’ll give you an example. You have an issue with a person who's experiencing homelessness, maybe has an encampment, and he or she's causing a disruption in that neighborhood. There’s trash and debris. And LAPD is the first in on that. … Because the resources for homeless outreach and engagement, those resources are far too limited. 

And the hours and times in which they work are far too limited. The homeless outreach and engagement in this city today after five o'clock in the afternoon largely consists of either a police officer or firefighter. So that's got to change. We should not be dependent on emergency workers for non-emergency situations.”

The city is cutting $150 million from the LAPD budget. The total budget is $1.8 billion. There’s criticism of how police handled protests. Are you concerned about morale among your officers? What are you hearing from them?

“I am very concerned about the morale. … The chief’s job is both in providing for the public's trust and their confidence that the agency … we're going to go out and we're going to safeguard their lives or property. We're going to do so in a manner that's respectful, that demonstrates our reverence for life and the dignity of each individual. 

And the chief also has a similar issue of taking care of the men and women that make up its workforce. … They [officers] believe that this is a job worth doing, that the job that can be done, and that it's a job or profession that people are going to approve of. People are drawn to public service do so as a means of a life of meaning, a life of purpose. 

And right now, the discussion going on about racial inequalities and social injustice are needed conversations in America and needed conversations here in Los Angeles. But what is unfortunate is in the mix of that … is the focus solely on law enforcement, and the vilification at times of policing, and the fact that policing should be abolished or removed. And that's very discouraging to a rank and file member, as well as frankly, to my senior command staff. 

And so one of my jobs as a chief is to be their leader, to ensure that they understand that I support them, I have confidence, and I'm proud of them. And at the same time, while I recognize that we don't always get it right, and we've got more work to do.”

I applaud you when you guys get it right. But in the recent past, some people have said you haven't gotten it right. And I look at some of the recent videos in LA, where people are seemingly peacefully protesting, and police are batoning them in the knee, trying to get them out of the way, are shooting rubber bullets. Why did it come to that? Why the riot gear? Why the militaristic look? People want to be safe, but they also want to be safe from the police.

“I believe that the full story regarding the civil unrest and the actions of this department, as well as the actions of both peaceful protesters and those that try to capitalize on this moment and committed acts of violence … it's a broader story. And I don't think one piece of video or 10 pieces of video explain the entire ordeal. 

… I look forward to the opportunity for the two independent investigations that we're pursuing. One that will direct-report back to the City Council … and the second one that will report back directly to the Board of Police Commissioners. 

.... I saw instances that I was not pleased, that I was not meeting my performance expectations, and I directly interceded, as well as caused others to. … I went out to locations and directed things to stop. … I saw some video images on Saturday that I could not explain in my mind as to their usefulness, their appropriateness, and was not satisfied with initial inquiries, and resultantly went to the location in order to ensure that my expectations were met. 

But at the same time, I also need to say that our officers, who the vast majority went out in a very difficult circumstance, a number of them were injured, a number of them were hurt. They also deserve the support of the public that their efforts were … to provide for peaceful demonstrations. And when we could not have peace, and people were attacking and committing acts of violence, that we restore order.”

Last week, three officers were charged with falsely adding names to the gang database. Now the Attorney General of California is involved, saying that he has revoked access to CalGang records generated by the LAPD. Critics say it shouldn't exist at all. Is it time to do away with it?

“It's time for LAPD to no longer participate in it. It's a database that has existed for quite a while as an effort to be a pointer system to help law enforcement solve gang violence. And certainly in Los Angeles, while we're at one of our safest times in our history, still half of our homicides we believe are gang-related. And so in the past, it's been an important system for us. 

However, the system is only as good … as the information we put in it. Our most recent inspection has demonstrated that unfortunately, the information we placed there was not accurate, was not complete. … In some instances, it was made up. And there are active criminal investigations into officers who falsified records. And there's active administrative investigations into those that made errors or otherwise fell short. 

…. But nonetheless [I’m] recognizing its [the database] impact on the Black and Brown community, and the severe manner of how it undermines trust in those communities in law enforcement and the criminal justice system. 

I believe it's time for us to withdraw, which is why my report to the commission was the permanent removal of us from participating in that system. And I've spoken with the office of the Attorney General, and we'll be pulling our all LAPD-submitted records out of that system. And they have also taken the proactive step, which I support, which is prohibiting other law enforcement agencies from accessing information LAPD has put in there over the last five years.”

— Written by Amy Ta, produced by Christian Bordal