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Unclear policies led to Inglewood shootings?

January 11, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
A new update from the U.S. Justice Department says the Inglewood Police Department's use-of-force policies are out of date and out of line.Details have been released from federal investigators about their examination of the Inglewood Police Department and a number of questionable shootings by Inglewood officers. And now a member of congress is threatening to ask the federal government to step in to oversee the department. The justice report is sending shock waves from Washington, D.C., to Southern California.

Apparently a lot of this has been under way for many months. The Inglewood Police Department has been under scrutiny on several different levels but until now the focus has been on the actions of individual police officers.

A letter from the Department of Justice spells out some other problems that go much further. In fact, the problems stem from how the department spells out its policies and procedures.

In Inglewood, the lament is all too common.

"We definitely don't think he deserved it," said Shawn Brown, a family member of a shooting victim. "There definitely has to be different ways to be able to deal with people that they may suspect had a gun."

Inglewood Police officers fatally shot unarmed men three times in four months in 2009.

U.S. Representative Maxine Waters called for a federal civil-rights investigation. Now she has 31-page letter from the Department of Justice. Though the probe is not complete, what investigators found so far is that police policies are outdated, even vague.

"The IPD's use-of-force policy does not provide enough technical and practical detail to provide officers with clear directives," says one section of the report.

"If the police do not have clear directives they are going to make mistakes, they are going to respond in ways that may not be consistent with good police practices. So that's very important," said Waters.

The finding is troubling to Greg Block. He is a certified trainer in use of force, instructing officers on how to size up a suspect, what weapon to use, and when not to use it. Failure to have clear policies, he says, that are backed by the courts opens the door to lawsuits and fatalities.

"That officer may realize that because their policy isn't clear they may not make a decision that could result in result in the death of an officer or death of an innocent bystander," said Block. "By the same token, some of the actual lack of definitions they are using could also result in the death of suspect because their use of force is not clearly defined."

Another problem identified by the Department of Justice: Inglewood's policy is inconsistent with the constitutional standards and limitations for the use of force.

The letter also identifies deficiencies that may be caused by lack of funds. Many officers had not completed their quarterly firearms qualification because the Inglewood Police Department did not have an adequate supply of ammunition.

And it is important to note that according to the Department of Justice, the Inglewood Police Department is fully cooperating. In fact, it applauds the efforts of Inglewood Police Chief Jacquelyn Seabrooks, who has already made many changes that embraced the recommendations by the DOJ.

In a statement Monday night, the department says it is taking all of these recommendations very seriously.