A Los Angeles City Council committee with the responsibility of writing a new ordinance that will give Los Angeles police officers facing disciplinary hearings a choice of appearing before an all-civilian review board met for the first time Tuesday since voters approved the idea in May 2017, but did not hold any discussion on the topic.
The Ad Hoc Committee on Police Reform is in charge of crafting the new policy condemned by critics as a weakening of the LAPD’s disciplinary system but that was placed on the ballot by the City Council with the support of Mayor Eric Garcetti and the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union representing the department’s rank-and-file officers.
It was the first meeting of the committee since the vote in May, and although only two items were on the agenda, the committee focused all of its discussion on the Los Angeles Police Department’s work to implement the Final Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing issued by the Obama administration in May 2015, a discussion that was not full of much fireworks because the LAPD had already implemented much of the task force’s guidelines when the report was issued, was in the process of implementing them or has since implemented them.
Council President Herb Wesson, who chairs the committee, did not offer any reason for not taking up the discipline measure for discussion.
The LAPPL had argued the current system is unfair because of the belief that the police chief has undue influence on sworn members of Board of Rights panels, which currently consist of two command-level officers and a civilian.
Under the new rules to be crafted by the committee, an officer facing disciplinary action will be able to choose whether the case will be reviewed by an all-civilian panel or a traditional board with two sworn officers and one civilian.
Current rules require the civilian to have a clean criminal record and at least seven years experience with arbitration, mediation, administrative hearings or comparable work, which has led to the Board of Rights panels to be stocked with many retired judges and lawyers, but Wesson expressed an interest last year in changing the rules to regular citizens could serve on the panels.
Wesson, Garcetti and the council pushed for Measure C to be placed on the ballot despite a study of the LAPD’s system that found civilians have shown to be more lenient on officers.
Some civil rights leaders in Los Angeles came out against the measure and argued that with an increased focus nationwide on police shootings, officers should face tougher panels, not lighter ones. They also argued that it was crafted without any significant community input.
“We are disappointed by the incredible setback that the passage of Measure C represents for accountability and justice for victims of police misconduct,” said Karren Lane, vice president of policy at the Community Coalition, said last year.
“Trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve is grounded in a disciplinary review process that people believe will be fair and transparent. Measure C creates an inconsistent disciplinary process that protects cops found guilty of serious acts of misconduct and reverses decades of work to reform LAPD.”
Despite the report, Wesson expressed faith in civilian panels and said he wanted to see the makeup of the panels change to be made up of regular citizens.
“If statistics and numbers would indicate that there is a certain degree of leniency when people, civilians, citizens are involved, then we need to change the way that we select the citizens,” Wesson said last year.
The Los Angeles Times Editorial Board opposed the measure, writing last year that “there is precious little evidence that there is anything wrong with the current discipline process, other than that officers and their union don’t like it.”
Anticipating that the committee would be discussing Measure C at the meeting, the Editorial Board took up the issue again Tuesday.
“Before the vote, the City Council went through the motions of considering broader changes to police oversight, but its actions made clear that it supported giving greater control over the discipline process to the union, which tends to reward or punish council members at reelection time,” the Editorial Board wrote.
It added, “This time, we hope the council will take its duties more seriously than it did with its long but superficial hearing before the vote. We hope as well that Los Angeles’ civic establishment, which was so intimately involved in police reform when it first proposed civilian participation in the review boards in 1992, will engage again. Those leaders were remarkably quiet when the Police Protective League proposed the change that was adopted last year.”
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