Reeling from a major defeat at the polls, a handful of police accountability groups called Wednesday for Los Angeles city leaders to overhaul the process used to select civilians who review allegations of serious officer misconduct.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, Black Lives Matter and other organizations said they want the City Council to conduct a “comprehensive review” of the disciplinary process at the Los Angeles Police Department, providing more transparency and developing a new set of criteria for the civilians who review officer termination cases.
The call came one day after voters decisively approved Charter Amendment C, a union-backed measure to allow three-member LAPD disciplinary panels — known formally as Boards of Rights — to be composed entirely of civilians. Under the current system, each board consists of one civilian and two LAPD command staff ranked captain or above.
Activists point to a recent city report that concluded that civilian panelists have been “consistently more lenient” than their sworn counterparts at the LAPD. In the wake of Tuesday’s vote, they said the city should scrap its list of civilians and develop a new pool of candidates for the Boards of Rights that is more reflective of the city.
“We refuse to let the police union and Police Commission distort the meaning of ‘civilian’ and stack the deck in favor of bad officers,” said Karren Lane, vice president of Community Coalition, an organization based in South Los Angeles.
City Council President Herb Wesson, a backer of the ballot proposal, had already launched a series of hearings on ways of bringing reform to the LAPD. One of those hearings, held last week, featured two hours of testimony from an array of Charter Amendment C opponents.
Wesson said he wants a new council committee to hold meetings across the city not just on changes to the Boards of Rights, but also other policing issues, such as efforts to bring more transparency to disciplinary matters.
“There’s not one subject I want to duck,” he said. “I want to look at every aspect of this.”
Charter Amendment C was championed by the Los Angeles Police Protective League, which represents about 9,800 rank-and-file officers, and backed by both Wesson and Mayor Eric Garcetti. Proponents said it would expand civilian oversight at the LAPD and make disciplinary proceedings more fair toward officers.
The union contends that high-level officers on Boards of Rights feel pressure to follow the police chief’s recommendations, undermining the integrity of the disciplinary proceedings.
Under the current system, civilian members of the Boards of Rights are required to have seven years of experience with arbitration, mediation or similar work.
Foes of the measure say those criteria exclude residents of communities that care most about police misconduct. They also contend that voters backed Charter Amendment C out of a mistaken belief that the proposal would result in greater oversight of problem cops.
“We believe that the majority of people who voted for the measure fell victim to the deceptive language and a campaign that cast it as ‘civilian oversight’ when it is nothing of the sort,” said Melina Abdullah, an organizer with Black Lives Matter, in a written statement.
Craig Lally, the police union’s president, said those comments amount to “sour grapes.”
“Rather than accepting the will of the voters, these so-called advocates for police accountability would rather drive a wedge between the public and their police officers, because that advances their disingenuous narrative and that’s what keeps their coffers filled,” he said. “It’s both shameful and absurd.”
The union spent nearly $1.3 million to secure passage of Charter Amendment C, sending mailers featuring endorsement messages from Garcetti, Wesson and County Supervisor Janice Hahn. Opponents, who relied heavily on social media to get their message out, said they were outspent 50 to 1.
Foes of the measure struggled throughout the campaign, failing early on to put an argument against Charter Amendment C on the ballot. A decision by U.S. Rep. Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) to oppose the measure was not announced until a day before the election. Opponents also had technical difficulties with a robocall that featured a message from Bass.
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