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Garcetti nominates attorney Cynthia McClain-Hill to Police Commission

An attorney and public policy strategist could become the latest member of the Los Angeles Police Commission, replacing a longtime commissioner whose second term is expiring.

Mayor Eric Garcetti announced Thursday that he had nominated Cynthia McClain-Hill to the five-person police oversight panel, taking the seat of Robert Saltzman, who has served on the board since 2007.

The City Council must approve the nomination before McClain-Hill joins the board.

In a statement, Garcetti described McClain-Hill as a respected attorney whose “impressive record of service … will bring valuable experience to the Police Commission.”

”We are at an important moment in the history of the Los Angeles Police Department,” the mayor said. “She is an independent thinker with a sharp and analytical mind, and shares my vision for an LAPD that fully embraces the demands of 21st century policing and gives officers the steady support they need to keep our streets safe.”

The Police Commission oversees the operations of the 10,000-officer force, sets LAPD policies and has an inspector general who investigates and audits the department on its behalf. 

In one of its most important roles, the board decides whether police shootings and other serious uses of force were appropriate. It’s a responsibility that has come under greater scrutiny as police officers across the country have been criticized for how they use force, particularly against African Americans.

If her appointment is approved, McClain-Hill would be one of two black commissioner, as well as its third female member.

McClain-Hill’s appointment comes as the Police Commission has taken an increasingly hands-on oversight role, particularly when it comes to use of deadly force. The board has recently directed the LAPD to find ways to reduce shootings by officers by revamping department rules, revising training and making more less-lethal devices available.

Those efforts have been praised by Garcetti and others across the city, including civil rights leaders. However, some activists affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement have criticized the commissioners, disrupting their weekly meetings and accusing the board of not doing enough to improve the LAPD.

Saltzman, who also was an associate dean at the USC Gould School of Law, is wrapping up his second term as a police commissioner. He served on the board for nine years — longer than any other current member — and often took a tough stance on key issues, providing the lone vote against reappointing Chief Charlie Beck and against the department’s rules for using body cameras. 

On Thursday, the president of the Police Commission praised Saltzman for what he described as “truly outstanding service” on the board.

“He served through numerous challenging events as a police commissioner,” Matt Johnson said. “His experience and wisdom will be missed.”

McClain-Hill has deep ties to Los Angeles, attending UCLA as both an undergraduate and law student. She was widely quoted in the Los Angeles Times and other media outlets during the trial of the LAPD officers who beat Rodney King and the city’s post-riot years. At the time, she also published a political newsletter geared to the black community.

In 2009, The Times reported that federal investigators had questioned people about whether County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas played any improper role in the hiring of McClain-Hill by a contractor building the Expo Line rail project. At the time, McClain-Hill told the newspaper that Ridley-Thomas had nothing to do with her hiring and complained that the accusations were politically motivated by Ridley-Thomas rivals. She also questioned whether there was actually an investigation into the matter. In any case, no charges were ever filed.

McClain-Hill cofounded Strategic Counsel, which describes itself as a firm that blends “legal and lobbying expertise with strong public policy outreach and strategic communications capabilities.” McClain-Hill’s focus is land use, environmental law and regulatory practice, according to her company’s website.

She’s also served on the California Coastal Commission, the California Fair Political Practices Commission, the National Assn. of Women Business Owners and on the board of directors of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce. 

McClain-Hill has contributed money to Garcetti’s mayoral bids, including his current campaign, but also donated to Garcetti’s 2013 rival, Wendy Greuel. McClain-Hill’s name was also listed on a 2013 flier promoting an event hosted by “Women with Wendy.”

Najee Ali, a civil rights activist focused on South L.A., said Garcetti “put aside political grudges for the best interest of our city” in nominating McClain-Hill to the Police Commission. He described her as an “iconic figure in our community.”

Johnson, the Police Commission president, also backed Garcetti’s choice, saying McClain-Hill’s experience with “the kind of complex issues that come before the commission” would add an “important perspective” as the board works to strengthen public trust in police and build upon the LAPD’s work.

“I think Cynthia would be an outstanding commissioner,” he said.

kate.mather@latimes.com

Follow me on Twitter: @katemather


UPDATES:

9:43 p.m.: This story was updated with additional background information about McClain-Hill.

7:23 p.m.: This story was updated with more background information about McClain-Hill and a comment from activist Najee Ali.

This article was originally published at 2:52 p.m.

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