“I don’t care if you … choke him out, tase him, bite him, shoot him. One question: Was it objectively reasonable…?” – Bruce Praett, Lexipol co-founder, interpreting Supreme Court case law on the use of force.
Lexipol, described by Police1.com as “a simple policy shop for police,” is much more than a “simple shop.” Now celebrating its 20th anniversary, Lexipol is the king of police training manuals; the place that police departments across the country look for guidance and support, including when to use deadly force and conduct body searches.
You may ask yourself: Why is it worth knowing about the company that creates police training manuals?
Answers to that question are startlingly simple: Because the handbooks, produced by the private for-profit company Lexipol, are used by more than 8,000 police agencies in the United States. And, because Lexipol’s work has been a roadblock in stalling police reform across the country. Writing in June 2022, KSTP-TV’s Ryan Raiche noted that “The company’s own attorney recently described efforts to restrict officers’ use of force as ‘bad for business.’”
According to Police1.com – a company Lexipol acquired in 2019 -- Lexipol “is a household name among U.S. public safety for its comprehensive offerings in the realms of policy, training, education, wellness, grants help and more, through which it serves more than two million public safety and government professionals in all 50 states.”
These manuals often provide the rationalizations for police shootings of unarmed black and brown people. In the wake of the murder of George Floyd, many experts and activists working on police reform believe that Lexipol’s police friendly policy manuals – prepared without public oversight -- are major contributors to thwarting reform efforts.
According to The Appeal’s Scott Morris, Lexipol “has grown rapidly over the last 15 years and saturated California, where its clients include more than 90 percent of law enforcement agencies. It’s impossible to know just how far Lexipol’s reach has spread as the company declines to provide a list of clients, saying that it is proprietary information.”
Morris called Lexipol “one of the most powerful voices in law enforcement policymaking in the country.” An analysis published in the Texas Law Review stated that, “although there are other private, nonprofit, and government entities that draft police policies, Lexipol is now a dominant force in police policymaking across the country.”
Morris noted (https://theappeal.org/lexipol-police-policy-company/) that, “Since nationwide protests over police shootings of Black people erupted in 2014, civil rights groups and policy experts have called for greater oversight and community participation in police policymaking. Police officers are typically given a lot of freedom to decide how and when to use force or arrest someone, so internal policy manuals tend to be the most direct way to regulate officers’ conduct—especially when they include strict guidelines on how to respond to particular situations.”
Police Shootings in Ceres, California
Take the case of two police shootings by the same officer in Ceres, California, a city of slightly under 50,000 people, located in Stanislaus County. The nearest big city is Modesto, where the brothers, Ernest and Julio Gallo founded their winery. Within one year, Nicholas Pimentel, a twenty-seven year-old restaurant cook, and Carmen “Spencer” Mendez, a fifteen-year-old, were killed by Ceres police.
Both killings, which Rowan Moore Gerety describes in detail in his story in the March 2022 issue of Esquire magazine (https://www.esquire.com/news-politics/a38941594/lexipol-bruce-praet-police-policy-guidelines-handbooks/), did not get much initial attention. This was before the murder of George Floyd and the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement, which set off a nationwide conversation about police reform.
The killings of Pimentel and Mendez were ruled justifiable. According to Gerety, “Police shootings are usually followed by two separate investigations: an internal-affairs review to determine whether officers violated department policies and a criminal investigation in which prosecutors decide whether they have violated the law. In both the Pimentel and Mendez cases, the district attorney’s office declined to seek an indictment of [Ross] Bays, ruling that both shootings were justified under the Supreme Court standard set forth in the 1989 case Graham v. Connor: ‘from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene.’”
Ross Bays was exonerated by Ceres Police Department’s internal affairs investigations.
Gerety reported that, “The Ceres Police Department bought its manual from … Lexipol, [whose] … manuals that are widely recognized as being police friendly, marketing them using taglines like ‘Is Your Use of Force Policy Properly Protecting You?’ Lexipol says it creates policies that mirror the law rather than factors like, say, public opinion or the research demonstrating that more rules governing the use of force result in fewer people being dead. The company writes ‘legally defensible’ policies, it says, that ‘mitigate risk.’”
Lexipol was founded in 2003 by two law enforcement veterans who later became lawyers, Gordon Graham, and Bruce Praet, and businessman Dan Merkle.
According to Esquire’s Gerety, “Lexipol has positioned itself as a simple solution to a longstanding problem: Policy manuals are supposed to function as a department’s bible for operations, but they take time and money to produce and can get “severely outdated” over time, as one of Lexipol’s marketing refrains says. Drafting new policy can be a daunting process, and most places don’t have a public body whose job it is to do it.”
Gerety, who profiles Bruce Praett in his Esquire story, writes about the role he played in the aftermath of the police shootings in Ceres:
When the Pimentel and Mendez families sued the city, the lawyer who represented Ceres in both cases was a private defense attorney named Bruce Praet, who has built his legal career on representing police officers and departments accused of breaking the law, including many fatal shootings. (Praet is a former police officer himself.) Together, the settlements to the two families totaled more than $4 million—more than a quarter of the Ceres Police Department’s annual budget. But much of that would be paid by the city’s insurance, and the settlements avoided the possibility of messy trials or even larger jury awards. Two young men in one small town had been killed by a single officer within a year, but the police department could go on as though nothing had happened. Ross Bays retired to Idaho.
Gerety reported that “Lexipol was acquired by a private-equity company in 2014; Praet retained an ownership interest and a seat on the board. Through a merger with Praetorian Digital, a ‘leading content and learning platform,’ Lexipol brought on a sales team with expertise in software as a service and digital trade publications like Police1.com. It introduced tiered pricing for different sections of its standard police manual and began charging departments for help applying for state and federal grants that could pay for—among other things—a subscription to Lexipol policies.”
Alan Schlosser, an attorney with the ACLU of Northern California, told The Appeal that Lexipol’s policies are “in some ways antiquated and counterproductive in terms of the direction that we would hope that police departments around the country have been moving.”
According to Joanna Schwartz, who co-wrote the Texas Law Review analysis of Lexipol with Ingrid Eagly, “Most experts agree that police policymaking should draw from multiple sources, including input from local community members regarding their experiences with police, best practices recommended by policing experts, research about the impact of various policies, and analyses of the costs and benefits of different approaches.”
Andrea Pritchett, a police review commissioner and the founder of Berkeley Copwatch, pointed out that Lexipol’s policies are “designed for maximum protection against civil liability. It’s not maximum protection of civil rights.I find it to be very disappointing that the good work done by so many members of the community over so many years has been uniformly just tossed out.”