Lafayette Police adopts parts of 8 Can’t Wait police reform campaign

Photo by Travis Gauthier

The gist: Updates to policies governing how Lafayette police officers use force will align department practices with a national police reform and racial justice campaign, once the changes are formally approved. A limited ban on using chokeholds and requiring de-escalation strategies are among the revisions adopted by the Lafayette Police Department after several weeks of discussions with a working group, spearheaded by three Black women, convened after the killing of George Floyd.

This is the first time LPD has updated its use of force policy since 2014. The changes are largely incremental, as many of the policies outlined by the 8 Can’t Wait police reform campaign used as a north star by the working group were already part of LPD’s general orders. Conference calls and Zoom meetings on the issue commenced in June, just as the nation began to seethe with protests — a movement that touched Lafayette with a round of peaceful marches in early summer. Local calls for police reform have grown louder after Lafayette police shot and killed Trayford Pellerin, a Black man, kicking off intense protests and vocal advocacy that has yet to extinguish. After Pellerin’s killing, the local NAACP demanded LPD adopt the framework and commit to other substantial changes.

Law student Faith Flugence, who introduced 8 Can’t Wait as the group’s framework, calls the changes a “win” even as they fall short of addressing what she sees as the deeper roots of police malpractice: racial injustice and a lack of accountability when police fail to abide by their own codes of conduct.

“That’s definitely still yet to be resolved,” Flugence says, reflecting on the changes after a meeting earlier this afternoon. “That’s something that will take a lot of gnawing at. The fact we got policies implemented and got these parties to the table was a win for us nevertheless.” 

Read LPD's Bias Based Profiling policy adopted in 2010.

Working separately, Flugence and attorney Xavieria Jeffers were connected with neighborhood organizer Alzina Dural, who also sits on the police community relations board, by LCG Chief of Minority Affairs Carlos Harvin. The group met with interim Chief Scott Morgan, who is White, and other LPD representatives to comb through changes in a series of meetings that were at times contentious and mutually suspicious, according to the women who participated.

8 Can’t Wait was launched after George Floyd’s death. The framework establishes eight no-cost policies advocates say can reduce the number of deaths and injuries resulting from police violence:

  • Ban chokeholds and strangleholds
  • Require de-escalation
  • Require warning before shooting
  • Exhaust alternatives before shooting
  • Impose a duty to intervene and stop wrongful violence among officers
  • Ban shooting at moving vehicles
  • Require a “use of force continuum” to detail force techniques available to police
  • Require comprehensive reporting of incidents involving force

LPD’s existing use of policy was implemented under Chief Jim Craft in 2014 and has not been updated since. Here are provisional changes released Thursday. Changes in bold:

  • Chokeholds are now reclassified as deadly force and reserved as a last resort 
  • De-escalation is now a required procedure in the use of force policy. LPD has trained officers in a de-escalation practice called “Verbal Judo” since the 1990s.
  • Require warning before shooting 
  • Exhaust all alternatives before shooting 
  • A more explicit duty to intervene now requires officers to immediately confront unlawful and dangerous violence 
  • Shooting at moving vehicles is banned in all but “extreme circumstances” (slight revision)
  • Existing use of force continuum is updated and now includes de-escalation tactics (slight revision) 
  • Existing use of force review process remains (slight revision)

Read the LPD's Use of Force policy adopted in 2014. This is the first time it has been released publicly.

Many departments, like Lafayette, already have policies in place that tick off boxes in the campaign. Created by the police reform advocacy Campaign Zero, the framework was designed as a low-barrier gateway to broader police reform. Many police reform advocates view the changes as superficial, even too easy to adopt, such that police departments are able to boast about progress without commitment to substantial changes.

There are more tweaks to come before the policy is finalized. Jeffers says the group was surprised by LCG’s announcement Thursday. The group had not seen the policies before the press release was published and quickly made headlines in local media. At first put off by the unilateral announcement, both Jeffers and Flugence say they were pleased with what they saw and ultimately walked away upbeat from their meeting Friday. Holding officers accountable is where the improvements come up short for Jeffers, but guidance from interim Chief Morgan on how to press for more changes floored her.

“I was shocked,” Jeffers says. “It really demonstrated that they’re in this for real.”