EARLY ONE MORNING in June 2015, after Kris Jackson had been fighting loudly with his girlfriend, a police officer knocked on the door to their motel room a few blocks from California’s Lake Tahoe. Jackson, a Black 22-year-old who was on probation for a drug offense, did not stick around to deal with the cops. Wearing only a pair of shorts, he hoisted himself partway out of the bathroom window into the cool, dark air of the motel’s back alley. That’s when another officer, Joshua Klinge, rounded the corner of the building, spotted Jackson hanging out the window, and shot him from several feet away. Klinge later claimed that Jackson looked “aggressive” and had a gun. No gun was found. Jackson died at the hospital a few hours later.
As in the majority of police killings, the local district attorney did not charge Klinge, who was placed on paid leave before being allowed to retire quietly. Jackson’s parents filed a federal lawsuit against the officer, several police department staff, and the city of South Lake Tahoe, arguing that not only had Klinge used excessive force against their son but that the police department had an illegal policy allowing him to do so. That policy, written by a company called Lexipol, stated that officers could use deadly force to protect themselves or others from any “imminent” threat of serious injury or death. An “imminent” threat, the policy explained, was broader than an “immediate” threat such as someone pointing a gun. It included any situation in which a “reasonable officer” would believe a suspect had a weapon and intended to use it.
Lexipol says it has provided policies, training, or services to 8,100 public safety agencies, offering customizable handbooks and instruction modules to police departments as well as fire, ems, and corrections agencies. According to the company, its copyrighted policies, which cover everything from avoiding racial profiling to policing protests, are based on “best practices” as well as federal and state standards and recent laws and court rulings. Since Lexipol was founded nearly 20 years ago, its model has proved immensely popular with smaller police departments that may not have the resources to keep their own policy manuals updated. Yet its policies are also used by larger cities, including Oakland and Salt Lake City. As many as 95 percent of law enforcement agencies in California have purchased Lexipol policies or received them through their insurers.
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