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LAPD Chief Michel Moore wants more power to fire officers

LAPD Chief Michel Moore meets with community organizations and faith-based groups in 2018.
(Michael Owen Baker / For The Times)

Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore wants to concentrate the power to fire officers in his own hands, saying the board that reviews his disciplinary decisions is overly lenient.

Bypassing the Board of Rights would require changing the city charter and would essentially undo a major reworking of police discipline that was approved by L.A. voters three years ago.

At a meeting Thursday with The Times editorial board that focused on police reforms in the wake of the George Floyd killing, Moore said the current system “always seems to default in favor of the officer.”

When Moore recommends that an officer be fired, whether for a fatal shooting or for driving drunk off-duty or some other misconduct, the case goes to a three-member Board of Rights.

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The police chief can downgrade the discipline recommended by the board but cannot increase it.

Moore pointed to other police agencies where the chief can quickly fire an officer and the decision is final unless overturned by a city manager or a court.

“I recently referred an officer who was out of policy in a shooting to a Board of Rights, and that officer is found not guilty,” he said. “And that, you know, pre-empts me, and that was the only means in which I can remove that officer. And so that is, in my view, terrible.”

Craig Lally, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union that represents rank-and-file LAPD officers, said the Board of Rights system is working well and that checks on the chief’s power are needed.

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“Every chief wants the power to do whatever they want, but officers are afforded due process,” Lally said. “Most people out there think due process is the fair thing to do. It’s not that the chief gets to have an investigation, and then the officer is terminated.”

Despite the Board of Rights, Moore has still been able to fire a number of officers, Lally said. Moore told the editorial board that he fired 18 officers last year.

Prior to the passage of Charter Amendment C in May 2017, Board of Rights panels were made up of one civilian and two members of the LAPD command staff.

The amendment, which was supported by Mayor Eric Garcetti and the City Council, gave officers the option of an all-civilian panel. The LAPPL spent at least $839,000 to campaign for its passage.

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Perhaps counterintuitively, civilians are generally considered more sympathetic to police officers than their commanders.

Some groups that favor greater police accountability, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles, opposed the amendment, saying it was deceptive and developed behind closed doors.

Melanie Ochoa, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU of Southern California, said Thursday that it is important to have checks on a chief’s power to fire officers.

Police chiefs should not be able to abuse their power by firing whistleblowers or targeting racial minorities, Ochoa said. But she agrees with Moore that the Board of Rights is too lax on problem officers.

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“The way the Board of Rights has operated is not just to protect against nefarious aims,” Ochoa said. “It has operated to eliminate accountability altogether.”

Moore said he has been speaking with Garcetti about his proposal and how to bring it about. A spokesman from Garcetti’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Moore said he also wants to seize a moment when policing is being reimagined to change the state law that prevents him from speaking about individual disciplinary cases.

“I think the public should have a clear view of when I call balls balls and when I call strikes strikes, the actions I take, and I should be able to speak freely about it, in defense of why I think that that decision was right,” he told the editorial board.


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