Loyola’s Policing L.A. Series Eyes De-escalation Techniques

An attempt at de-escalation turned fatal when Los Angeles County Sheriff’s officers responded to a call from the Asian Pacific Family Center in 2012. Center staff were concerned about the state of mind of Jazmyne Eng, a woman suffering from mental illness who they said had arrived at the center calmly carrying a ballpeen hammer. Within minutes, deputies had shot her dead.

Jazmyne’s sister, Nancy Eng of the National Alliance for Mental Illness, described the incident as part of the Loyola Law School, Los Angeles Policing Los Angeles Forum panelPromoting De-Escalation Training held Friday, Sept. 21, 2018 from 12-1:30 p.m. on Loyola’s downtown L.A. campus. The story served as an illustration of the intense need for – and occasional breakdown of – procedures to help ensure peaceful interactions between law enforcement officers and members of the public.

The fifth event in an ongoing series on police practices, the discussion looked at the evolution of police department policies governing officer conduct with citizens. Other panelists included Sgt. Rich Bojorquez, L.A. County Sheriff’s Department; Sgt. Annadennise Briz, L.A. County Sheriff’s Department; Patti Giggans, executive director, Peace Over Violence & chair, L.A. County Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission; and Professor Emily Owens, UCI School of Social Ecology. Loyola Professor Sean Kennedy, Kaplan & Feldman Executive Director of the Loyola Center for Juvenile Law & Policy, moderated.

Sgt. Briz pointed out that at the time of the Eng shooting, the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department had only four Mental Evaluation Team (MET) units – none of which responded to the call. Officers in these units receive specialized training to help them de-escalate situations involving those living with mental illness.

Since the time of the shooting in 2012, the number of MET teams has more than quadrupled, with plans to train even more officers on how to assess and de-escalate situations involving someone with a mental illness. “The No. 1 thing with de-escalation is slowing the pace down,” Briz said.

Other panelists opined on how to effectively diffuse potentially fatal police encounters. For her part, Giggans painted a broad picture of responsibility. “All of us can participate in de-escalation events,” she said.

Debating the multi-pronged roles of law enforcement officers, Professor Kennedy suggested that all officers would benefit from the type of de-escalation training MET teams receive. “I’m thinking we need a lot more guardians than warriors.”

The Policing Los Angeles Forum series debuted in February 2018 and has included the panels “Policing Under SB54,” “Police Policy-Making” and “Police Body Cameras.” Upcoming panels include: “Big Data Policing” on Oct. 26 and “Access to Police Disciplinary Records: Proposals for Reform” on Nov. 16. View video of past panels and learn more at www.lls.edu/policing.

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