A proposed ordinance allowing police officers to have their discipline cases heard by a panel composed of three civilian members was approved Wednesday by a Los Angeles City Council committee.
But the issue of what kind of residents will be allowed to serve on such panels went undecided.
The City Council voted last year to have its attorneys draft an ordinance that would give Los Angeles police officers facing possible discipline the option of appearing before an all-civilian review board, or choosing the current option of two command-level officers and a civilian.
The ordinance was approved by the council’s Ad Hoc Police Reform Committee, although the ordinance does not specify what types of civilians can serve on the review panels.
A measure calling for the changes was placed on the May 2017 ballot by the City Council with the support of Mayor Eric Garcetti, Council President Herb Wesson and the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union representing the department’s rank-and-file officers. Charter Amendment C passed with 57.14 percent of the vote.
The LAPD’s current rules require the civilian panel member to have a clean criminal record and at least seven years experience with arbitration, mediation, administrative hearings or comparable work. Those requirements have led the Board of Rights panels to be stocked with retired judges and lawyers. Wesson has expressed a desire to change the rules so regular residents could serve on the panels.
The City Council also last year directed the Police Commission to make changes to the qualifications for civilian hearing examiners to enhance diversity, increase the number of eligible city residents and allow for the inclusion of retired police officers who have been off the force at least one year. The commission submitted a report to the City Council in December outlining some proposed changes.
A report from the ACLU of Southern California, Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles and Community Coalition said people with past arrests should not be excluded from the panels, but that retired police officers should be excluded.
“The City Council has the opportunity to make good with its voters and implement a disciplinary process that is fair and transparent,” said Melanie Ochoa, ACLU SoCal staff attorney, when the report was issued. “Officers who commit serious misconduct should not get a free pass.”
Wesson drafted a series of recommendations for the council committee, and said people with felonies or serious misdemeanors should be excluded, but also recommended that retired officers should be off active duty for at least two years, not one year. The Police Commission recommended that civilian panel members should have at least three years’ experience in human resources, personnel relations, labor relations or personnel matters related to recommending, administering, adjudicating or reviewing the administration of discipline.
The committee moved to continue discussion on the makeup of the panels.
“I would hope that if there are suggestions from outside entities that they would send them to us so that we could review them and then the next time we meet, some of those things can be discussed as well,” Wesson said.
Councilman Greig Smith said there should be an exception for someone with a felony record serving on the panels.
“I personally would find it abhorrent to put somebody with a felony arrest on this board, with the exception — and there should be an exception box maybe in the application — of a person who maybe committed a felony or serious misdemeanor in the young part of their life and has turned their life around and become a positive force in the community,” Smith said. He then described a man who once worked for him who had committed a felony at 17 but later became a community leader.
“There should be an ability to judge such person, but it should be a rare, rare case,” Smith said.
The LAPPL has argued the current system is unfair, citing the belief that the police chief has undue influence on sworn members of Board of Rights 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 are generally more lenient on officers.
“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 in 2017.
The ACLU report said the Board of Rights outcomes and voting patterns should be reported regularly, with the hearings audited, and that all disciplinary records should be posted by the department, along with other recommended changes.
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