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Doing Its Job or Doing a Job? : Council must not nit-pick Christopher report

You don’t get onto the Los Angeles City Council by being a shrinking violet. Indeed, sometimes the egos ricochet off the City Hall marble like high-caliber bullets. So it was probably hoping for too much to expect the council to accept the Christopher Commission’s recommendations for reforming the police without trying to apply its own stamp.

Indeed, the ever-diplomatic commission chairman, former Assistant Secretary of State Warren Christopher, says he recognizes that his panel was not the fount of all wisdom on police reform and is willing to accept some modification of its proposals. And council members can argue--however disingenuously--that they would not be carrying out their duties if they did not critically evaluate the commission’s many recommendations before passing on them.

But critically evaluating is one thing; leaving the recommendations in critical condition is quite another.

Last week the council’s Police, Fire and Civil Defense Committee, the first panel to look at the commission proposals, made minor--but not insignificant--changes in three proposals as to how much power the mayor would have in hiring and firing future police chiefs.

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This week another committee, a special ad hoc panel named by council President John Ferraro, took its own look at the commission report and probably will make modifications. None of the changes proposed so far have the force of law because, ultimately, the full council has to vote on modifications.

But what we find worrisome is the possibility that because one committee made a few changes, another committee--and perhaps then still another--may decide it is now open season on the Christopher Commission report.

That sounds frighteningly similar to the way the council nit-picked the recommendations made by a special citizens commission on ethics in 1989. Council members drafted an ordinance that was such a muddle that the mess is still being cleaned up. That must not happen again.

So it is reassuring that a watchdog citizens group, including some former members of the Christopher Commission, has been formed to monitor what the City Council does with the commission proposals.

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Made up of prominent community leaders, it will also raise money to push for enactment of the commission’s reforms by initiative if the council dilutes them. That’s the best way to counter any mischief that might occur in City Hall. But let us emphasize the word might. To some extent the council is doing the job it is supposed to do by seriously discussing the commission report. But in keeping a watchful eye over council members’ shoulders, the many citizens who support the Christopher Commission are only doing their job, which is holding the politicians accountable.

By keeping that not always comfortable but fundamentally important balance in mind, this city can keep moving forward to the Christopher Commission’s encouraging vision of a Los Angeles with the best police department that it can have.


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