The Los Angeles Police Department is looking into a curious cluster of dangerous incidents: In the space of one week last month, three cops inadvertently fired their weapons.
No one was injured by the flying bullets. Instead, the victims were two apartment walls, and the floor of a police station.
Still, Police Chief Michel Moore is concerned, and he and other LAPD brass are trying to determine if the quick succession of what law enforcement labels “unintentional discharge incidents” was a coincidence, or if something is off in terms of department training and guidance.
Members of the civilian Los Angeles Police Commission, who oversee the department, raised eyebrows over the reports.
At the panel’s Tuesday morning meeting, Commissioner Dale Bonner called the trio of incidents “very troubling for a lot of reasons.” Commissioner Eileen Decker also seemed concerned, and asked that Moore bring another high-ranking department official, Deputy Chief Michael Rimkunas, to a commission sub-committee meeting when a review of what happened is completed.
During the meeting, Moore described the incidents. The first occurred at 11:15 p.m. on April 22, and involved an officer who had recently graduated from the Police Academy. The officer, who was assigned to the Hollenbeck Division, was at his residence. Moore did not identify the officer or where he lived, except to say it was outside city limits.
“According to the officer, while he was removing his off-duty weapon from a holster, he inadvertently fired the pistol into his bedroom wall,” Moore stated. “The round penetrated a shared wall, landing into an adjacent apartment.”
The neighbors were not home at the time, Moore said.
The second incident occurred at around 3:30 p.m. on April 27, and again involved an off-duty officer at his home, which also was outside the city.
“The officer had just finished cleaning his pistol, when he inadvertently fired a round into his bedroom wall. The round also penetrated a shared wall of an adjoining apartment,” Moore stated.
Two people were in the neighboring unit at the time. As with the first incident, Moore said police investigators were dispatched to the scene.
The third incident occurred at 6:23 a.m. on April 28, inside a police traffic building in the department’s Wilshire Area.
“There, an on-duty motor officer assigned to the West Traffic Division was handling a co-worker’s firearm and had an untactical, unintentional discharge into the detective’s squad room,” Moore said. “The round was directly discharged into the floor.”
No details were provided as to why the officer had someone else’s weapon.
Moore said these were the first three cases of their kind this year. However, this is not without precedent: The LAPD’s annual Use of Force report details 35 unintentional discharge incidents from 2017-2021. The number of errant shots fired annually ranges from four in 2018 to 11 in 2019. There were eight such cases last year.
While the Use of Force report does not reveal specifics of any unintentional discharge, it describes overall trends. It noted that in the last five years, 31 of the people who erroneously fired a weapon were men, and four were women. Six of the eight 2021 incidents involved police personnel with more than 20 years of experience.
Two of the 35 incidents resulted in officer injury, though severity was not revealed.
Curiously, April is the most frequent month for weapons to be erroneously fired. Six incidents, or 17 percent of the total, occurred in that month from 2017-2021.
Moore said the department will investigate the trio of cases and seek to determine if there are any overlapping factors. He noted that the LAPD has “basic firearms rules” and that officers are required to engage in “safe handling weapons drills.”
He said past investigations into unintentional discharges have revealed that some officers were not deeply familiar with the weapon in hand, and others were careless, perhaps in how they held the firearm. Those and other potential causal elements will be examined.
“In each of the investigations,” Moore said, “we look to the state of mind of the officer. Was the officer under the influence for instance of alcohol? Was the officer fatigued? Was the officer paying attention to what he or she was doing? Were they multi-tasking with other things?”
Bonner asked what assurances there are all that unintentional discharges are reported, noting that a shot could go off in someone’s garage or back yard. Moore responded that in addition to obvious signs of a weapon being fired, such as the loud noise, officers are required to immediately speak up.
“We had that happen about a year and a half ago, and that officer is no longer a member of the organization. There was a delay in the reporting,” he said.
Unintentional discharge incidents are separate from when police fire a weapon in the line of duty, what the department labels an “officer involved shooting.” The term has drawn opposition from activists who charge that police fire weapons too quickly and too frequently.
Through April 30, Moore said, six such shots had been fired. That is down from 12 at the same time last year.