DEEGAN ON LA—Sheltered in the safety of a campaign promise to house seventeen-thousand homeless in her first year in office, a pledge that will give her many months of breathing room to maneuver before having to make an accounting, Mayor Karen Bass suddenly has a raw and emotional issue that may set the tone for the launch of her mayoralty that is now just several weeks old.
The burning issue is not housing seventeen-thousand homeless, but what to do about the twelve-thousand cops that wear the LAPD badge? How to manage them, including who their chief will be when the incumbent’s term ends in June? He’s asked for a renewal for a second five-year term. The mayor said not so fast.
The mayor’s pressing concern may be how to deal with some serious soundbites: Disarm the cops. Defund the police. Abolish the jails. No cop guns in city council chambers. Fire the top cop.
The context for a review of how the police are themselves policed became real with the emotional community response to the tasering of Keenan Anderson, who died a few hours after he was zapped by a taser six times in forty-two seconds.
Like Keenan Anderson, Takar Smith and Oscar Sanchez were also alleged victims of the LAPD in the last few weeks. All three men died within 48 hours in separate LAPD incidents.
Mayor Bass can’t avoid the ugly picture of excessive force by the cops against people that may have mental health issues, and that’s an important point for her to jawbone about. She can do more than passively observe: she can lead with a strong voice from a sturdy bully pulpit to set the tone for police reform. Her choice for LAPD Chief beginning July 1 will be a landmark decision.
Several body-cam views of the Anderson takedown and tasing provide a clear example of cops out of control. Their priority was to get the suspect immobilized and face down on the sidewalk. What was going on in his head was not shown as a concern for any cop, or cop supervisor, on the scene. Anderson, who a blood test would later reveal had cocaine in his system, was cuffed, hobbled, tased and hauled off to a hospital where he died a few hours later.
Keenan Anderson has risen from the dead as an icon for police reform in Los Angeles. He could be Karen Bass’ “George Floyd”.
Ultimately, the mayoral appointment of a chief needs approval of the police commission and a city council vote. The far-left anti-cop campaign slogans may have helped get a few councilpersons elected last November, and those new politicos may continue to be cheerleaders that keep the anti-LAPD fires going. They will be able to weigh in on Bass’ decision about the police chief with their deliberations and vote. There’s a political ((base that responds to anti-cop rhetoric like red meat for the hungry, and a priority for most politicos is to get re-elected so that base will continue to be fed as long as we have cops.
Hopefully, other, more moderate politicos will help shift cop behavior into a service delivery mode that calls mental health workers to the scene and lets them take over from cops that are not trained how to deal with people with mental health issues.
The presence of an on-site mental health assessment team was the glaring absence in the Anderson case. The multiple LAPD body-cam streams of the Anderson incident show just how single-tracked the cops were: get the suspect face down and don’t be afraid to tase him to get the mission accomplished.
Their victory was Pyrrhic. The cops controlled him, but hours later Anderson died and his family has rattled the saber of a fifty-million-dollar lawsuit against Los Angeles.
There’s plenty of work to be done to turn this foul play into a blueprint for the mayor to take control of her first real political crisis, and control of the LAPD. The position description for renewing the current police chief, or his replacement, has to include redeploying beat cops away from homeless interactions and the mental health conditions of anyone they suspect of being a trouble maker.
Its not only the mayor that’s in crisis, but the LAPD. If the mayor doesn’t set the tone, cast in stone, about how cops deal with mentally challenged suspects, the Anderson lesson of what that negligence can lead to will become a bell un-rung.
(Tim Deegan is a civic activist whose Deegan on LA weekly column about city planning, new urbanism, the environment, and the homeless appear in CityWatch. Tim can be reached at [email protected].)