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As a part of the Los Angeles Police Department’s efforts at rehabilitation around the use of deadly force, the public is expected to give them the benefit of the doubt and believe that a 147-year-old institution with a well documented rap sheet pattern of behavior that includes scandals, racism, police misconduct, police brutality and questionable officer-involved-killings can change its stripes—which is exactly the opposite of what many in law enforcement believe civilians with the same sordid and lengthy background are capable of.

Rehabilitating LAPD

Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks: Rehabilitating the LAPD—Jasmyne Cannick

The department is about to embark on the first steps in making real changes to how its officers use force in an effort to lower the number of police shootings.

Last week the Los Angeles Police Commission voted to teach an old dog new tricks. Upon recommendations from the commission’s inspector general, the department is about to embark on the first steps in making real changes to how its officers use force in an effort to lower the number of police shootings. Simply put, an institution riddled with strife, public mistrust and that has been labeled as the most murderous police department in the country is about to attempt to rehabilitate itself.

The proposed changes are being billed as a new day in the LAPD, a sort of signal that the tide is changing and it’s no longer business as usual—that they’re actually doing something. And while the department’s administration is claiming to be in the process of rehabilitating itself, the labor union that represents its officers is opposing November’sPublic Safety and Rehabilitation Act.

Backed by California’s Governor Jerry Brown, Proposition 57 wants to focus law enforcement on serious violent crime and stop wasting costly prison space on non-violent people who can be rehabilitated. It is largely seen as an extension to 2014’s Proposition 47, which was approved by voters and reduced non-violent, non-serious crimes to misdemeanors and gave more inmates a higher chance for parole consideration. Both propositions are designed to aide in the reduction of California’s swelling prison population.

Like with Proposition 47, district attorneys, county sheriffs and numerous police associations are opposing Proposition 57. In Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Police Protective League is urging a no vote on Proposition 57.

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But isn’t what’s good for the goose, good for the gander?

Some would say that there isn’t much difference between the behavior of serial criminals and the LAPD. Both tend to be repeat offenders with a pattern of behavior that stretches back to their earliest days and have an equal chance at recidivism.

On the one hand the police union doesn’t want us to believe that criminals can become productive members of society and and have engaged in a campaign of fear-mongering around Proposition 57. On the other, the Police Commission and Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck want the public to believe that the LAPD can and will change how it interacts with them, including being more transparent and forthcoming with information after an officer-involved-shooting.

Angelenos would be well within their rights to be skeptical and give the LAPD the side eye on its reeducation efforts because after all it’s been nearly 150 years and promise after promise of a change soon coming. Add to that, if the public believes what the foes of rehabilitation say, then you can’t rehabilitate a life long serial offender and to many that’s exactly what the LAPD is.

As humans, for the most part we tend to be optimistic and have a need to believe in the redeeming qualities of others and nowhere is that more true than in the state of California. Just like the police want the public to believe in not only their ability but also their desire to rehabilitate they should give the public the same benefit of the doubt and lay off of the fear-mongering around Proposition 57.

In closing, I’m not hating on the men and women who patrol the streets of Los Angeles but I am pointing out the hypocrisy in asking the public to do something that you are unwilling to reciprocate–we call that sending mixed messages. Police officers should give the public the same benefit of the doubt that they’re seeking—that change is possible—even within an organization like the Los Angeles Police Department.


Jasmyne Cannick