Council Panel Votes to Keep Police Power : City Hall: Public Safety Committee rejects Christopher Commission reforms, votes to retain control over chief.
Rejecting key recommendations of the Christopher Commission report, a powerful Los Angeles City Council committee on Friday voted to retain the council’s control over the Police Department, including the selection and discipline of future police chiefs.
The Public Safety Committee, chaired by City Councilman Richard Alatorre, also voted unanimously to shelve recommendations that the Police Commission be empowered to take legal action to defend its rights. In addition, it tabled a proposal to have the mayor appoint future police chiefs.
The actions came at a special meeting called by Alatorre’s committee on the last day the panel had jurisdiction over the proposed reforms. On Monday, the job of implementing the Christopher Commission report will be turned over to an ad hoc committee chaired by City Councilman Marvin Braude.
A few community leaders and elected officials who showed up at the committee meeting complained that it was poorly publicized and a deliberate attempt to undermine the Christopher Commission reforms in the aftermath of the police beating of Rodney G. King.
“We have been picking and prying and trying so hard to say that the City Council must take these recommendations seriously,” said Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles). “Then, in the dark of the night, this meeting pops up.”
Mayor Tom Bradley’s spokesman, Bill Chandler, also criticized the committee’s actions, which were to be forwarded on Tuesday to the full council.
“The mayor has consistently said that the Christopher Commission recommendations ought to be adopted as written without change,” Chandler said. “Once the debate is over, and the council has heard from Warren Christopher and others, the mayor is confident the council will agree with the wisdom of this position.”
The council could choose to vote on the proposals, or send them back to the new ad hoc committee, city officials said.
John Spiegel, chief counsel for the Christopher Commission, pointed out that “on the whole, there were a lot of recommendations adopted and forwarded to the City Council, and we are pleased about that.”
The committee adopted, for example, proposals to expand the department’s community-oriented policing efforts, increase the Police Commission’s staff by eight and limit a police chief to two five-year terms.
On the committee in addition to Alatorre were Councilmen Hal Bernson and Nate Holden.
In an interview late Friday, Alatorre responded to critics, saying the committee was trying to avoid having important issues “sidetracked by politics.”
“There is going to be disagreement,” Alatorre said. “But politicizing the appointment process of selecting a new chief of police is the worst thing that could happen.”
The Christopher Commission, in its 228-page study of the Police Department, recommended that the mayor appoint future police chiefs from a list of three top candidates selected by the Police Commission. Currently, the chief is selected and disciplined by the Police Commission.
It also recommended that the Police Commission be exempt from recently passed Charter Amendment 5, which gives final authority over all city commission decisions to the City Council. That proposal was tabled by the council committee.
The Christopher Commission additionally found that the “Police Commission--which under current law has no standing to sue” should have the independent power to “seek judicial relief when necessary to carry out its oversight function.”
On Friday, Alatorre’s committee tabled that recommendation without discussion. Eleven less controversial Christopher Commission recommendations were approved with only minor modifications.
Later, Alatorre said that the ballot measure increasing council power over city departments was “passed overwhelmingly by the people of Los Angeles.”
If the Police Commission is permitted to file its own lawsuits, he said, it would be “an open checkbook policy.”
Alatorre’s chief of staff, Al Avila, said the committee’s action was an attempt to appease fractious groups, including council members who have supported Police Chief Daryl F. Gates and minority community leaders who have long supported Bradley and sought Police Department reforms.
“We got a sense from people we talked to about what was important in terms of achieving our goal of getting the most reforms through,” Avila said. “This has a pretty good shot of everyone buying off on these recommendations.”
But Jose De Sosa, state president of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, disagreed. “I’m deeply offended by the nature of this meeting and the fact that it was not properly publicized,” he said. Alatorre said proper legal notice of the session was given.
Police Commission President Stanley K. Sheinbaum said he was not surprised by the committee’s actions.
“We can’t sue with our own attorney, we are not exempt from Charter Amendment 5 . . . yes, these bother me,” Sheinbaum said.