LAPD Shootings of Unstable People Holding Sharp Objects on the Rise

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While LAPD shootings have dramatically declined in recent decades, scrutiny has grown in recent months of shootings where mentally ill, intoxicated or homeless people are shot by police while armed not with firearms but with knives, swords, heavy tools or other blunt objects, reports the Los Angeles Times. Police officials say such weapons represent real, imminent threats, but critics claim the danger is exaggerated and that officers are too quick to pull the trigger. The situation is another reason that many want mental health clinicians to take over calls from cops. LAPD data reviewed by The Los Angeles Times show suspects were allegedly armed with “edged weapons” in about 18 percent of police shootings between 2015 and 2019, and with “impact devices” like bats in 4 percent. In 2020, edged weapons were identified in 23 percent of cases.

Of all people LAPD officers shot from 2016 to 2019, nearly a quarter were perceived to be suffering from a mental illness, while more than 80 percent were believed to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol. In response, long standing policies like the once-common “21-foot rule,” which held that anyone with a weapon within that distance represented an imminent threat, have increasingly been dropped in favor of more nuanced rules that prioritize de-escalation techniques and the use of “less lethal” alternatives to deadly force. The LAPD has also launched a pilot program to divert calls around suicidal ideation to health workers, and county supervisors have launched new rapid-response mental health teams. The department’s use-of-force policy calls on officers to de-escalate situations first, to use verbal warnings, to use physical force only in proportion to the threat they are facing, and to open fire on suspects only when it is objectively reasonable to do so.

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