LAPD wants more 'compassion & empathy' from officers interacting with homeless

© Patrick Fallon
The Los Angeles Police Department has enacted a new policy that calls for officers to be more benevolent in dealing with the city's homeless population, following two high-profile shootings of homeless men by LAPD officers in 2015.

The new rules, announced Tuesday, advise officers to be aware that some homeless struggle with mental and physical health or substance abuse. It also directs LAPD officers to offer homeless persons information about housing, medical, or psychological options, according to the Los Angeles Times. But the directive also advises officers to respect a person's refusal to consider those services.

The LAPD is developing other initiatives to address homelessness, the Times reported, including outreach teams and deeper analyses of crimes committed by homeless persons, in order to prevent those crimes from occurring, according to Commander Todd Chamberlain, who directs the LAPD's Homeless Strategy Committee.

Chamberlain has called the policy a "philosophy more than it is nuts and bolts," the Times reported.

Matthew Johnson, president of the Los Angeles Police Commission, and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti both praised the policy for its potential to improve interactions with homeless communities. 

Mark Cronin, director at the Los Angeles Police Protective League union, is not pleased with the new directives.

“The LA [Police Commission] is infuriatingly out of touch,” Cronin tweeted Wednesday.

The LAPD has been criticized for heavy-handed tactics involving homeless populations, especially in the Skid Row area of downtown Los Angeles, where many live in tents and makeshift shelters. LAPD aggression towards homeless goes beyond harassment, frequently resulting in violent encounters.

The policy comes after two fatal shootings of homeless persons by LAPD officers in 2015. In March of that year, officers shot and killed Charly "Africa" Keunang in Skid Row. Officers said Keunang had reached for a rookie cop's holstered gun after he was Tasered. Protests ensued, accusing the LAPD of excessive force in the case.

In May 2015, an LAPD officer shot and killed a homeless man named Brendon Glenn near the Venice boardwalk. LAPD Officer Clifford Proctor claimed Glenn had tried to grab his partner's gun, but security camera footage showed otherwise. In April 2016, after an 11-month investigation, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, with support from the Police Commission, said Proctor acted unjustifiably and recommended criminal charges, marking the first time Beck had called for charges against an officer since he became chief in late 2009.

Both shootings exacerbated tensions between city residents and the LAPD, which used force in encounters with the public at least about 2,000 times in 2015, the department said, with 21 of those involving a fatal shooting.

An expert on homelessness told the Times he was skeptical about the LAPD's new policy and whether it would have any real impact on how the department handles issues involving homeless communities.

“The policy is probably too generic to have much effect,” Gary Blasi, a former UCLA law professor, told the Times. “It … will enable the city to say that it has a humane policy while doing nothing concrete to make police actions more humane.”

Blasi added that the city could change laws that do not punish people for not having a home, “so that the police are not involved in the first place.” 

About 47,000 people are homeless in Los Angeles County, with about two-thirds living in the city of Los Angeles, the Times reported.