A little-known private consulting firm that drafts policies for thousands of U.S. police departments is behind an “aggressive” effort to prevent changes in use-of-force standards, according to a forthcoming paper in the Indiana Law Journal.
By rejecting policies like de-escalation and rules prohibiting chokeholds―strategies that have already won support from many police chiefs and national police associations―Lexipol LLC has helped stiffen resistance to serious reforms among smaller and mid-sized police departments across the nation, write University of California, Los Angeles law professors Ingrid V. Eagly and Joanna C. Schwartz, the authors of the paper.
“Local governments, police departments and insurers have long viewed Lexipol as a critically important partner in keeping policies lawful and up-to-date,” the paper declares.
“(It’s) clear that they should take a closer look.”
Founded in 2003, Lexipol advises on policies and trainings for nearly one-third of law enforcement agencies nationwide. It describes itself on its website as a “neutral” risk management consultancy that “empowers first respondents and public servants to serve their communities safely and responsibly.”
But in fact, say Eagly and Schwartz, its activities are far from neutral: It acts in effect as a quiet and “often overlooked” lobbyist frustrating significant efforts at police reform.
Lexipol materials emphasize that police officers should be allowed maximum discretion in the use of force.
One rule —”Policy 300” — embraces the so-called Graham standard, named after a 1989 Supreme Court ruling in Graham v Connor, which established that claims of excessive force by law enforcement officers should be judged under an “objective reasonableness” standard.
Policy 300 states that officers should use force “that reasonably appears necessary given the facts and circumstances perceived by the officer at the time of the event,” recognizing that “officers are often forced to make split-second decisions about the amount of force that reasonably appears necessary in a particular situation.”
Rather than advising officers on de-escalation techniques, Lexipol’s Daily Training Bulletins (DTBs) merely clarify that officers have maximum flexibility to use force. In one hypothetical DTB scenario, police shoot a man holding a baseball bat after he “rushes” toward an officer.
According to Lexipol materials, “the officer in this scenario ‘reasonably deduced that the suspect’s actions posed an immediate threat to the safety of you and others present and you responded accordingly.’”
Beyond issuing biased policies and training materials, Lexipol “vehemently opposes” bright-line rules prohibiting certain types of behavior, like chokeholds and shooting into cars, Eagly and Schwartz write.
And when use-of-force reforms have been enacted, Lexipol has attempted to minimize their impact.
When California legislators attempted to pass a bill limiting the use of deadly force, Lexipol warned on Twitter that the bill was “bad for law enforcement, the legal system and the community” and would lead to “large verdicts against law enforcement officers and their agencies.”
Shielding officers from accountability, argue the authors, is a major byproduct of Lexipol’s wide and slanted scope. By opposing restrictions on officer use-of-force, the company threatens to undermine reform efforts in local, state and national agencies.
It’s possible, also, that Lexipol may capitalize on the current moment, when politicians are passing bills requiring law enforcement agencies to rewrite their polices. In New York, Lexipol has volunteered to assist with such rewrites.
“Even though local governments and insurers have long viewed Lexipol as an essential partner in keeping policies lawful and up-to-date, it is time that they take a closer look,” the authors write.
“Lexipol’s aggressive efforts to limit and undermine use-of-force policy reform may ultimately expose officers and agencies to liability instead of shielding them from it.”
“Unless and until the company changes its approach, Lexipol should be viewed as an impediment to reform.”
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Eva Herscowitz is a TCR Justice Reporting intern.