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Police Commission delays discussion of proposed rules for meetings

Protesters shout their message in the face of an LAPD officers after disrupting the Los Angeles Police Commission meeting in August 2015 on the one-year anniversary of Ezell Ford's death.

Protesters shout their message in the face of an LAPD officers after disrupting the Los Angeles Police Commission meeting in August 2015 on the one-year anniversary of Ezell Ford’s death.

(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)
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Los Angeles police commissioners on Tuesday delayed their discussion of proposed rules for people who attend their public meetings, saying the city attorney’s office recommended they be further reviewed.

The commission’s executive director, Richard Tefank, cited a letter the board received Monday morning from the American Civil Liberties Union, which outlined its concerns over the proposed rules and cited several cases backing free speech at public meetings.

“The city attorney has recommended that we further study those issues,” Tefank said.

After that review, Tefank said, the board would either be presented with the same set of proposed rules “or a revised document.” The discussion was rescheduled for the next Police Commission meeting on Sept. 15.

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The proposal put on the board’s agenda Tuesday stipulated that people who made “repetitious, personal, impertinent or profane remarks” at Police Commission meetings could be ordered to leave and ultimately removed by police.

The recommendations came after a series of meetings that have been disrupted by activists, including those affiliated with Black Lives Matter who have protested recent police shootings.

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In the letter sent to the five police commissioners, ACLU staff attorney Catherine Wagner said the language of the proposed rules “leaves open the possibility it may be construed in ways inconsistent with the protections for free speech in both the United States and California constitutions.”

Wagner said she understood the “valid public interest” in effective and efficient meetings and the need to address “genuine disruption.”

“Mere speech, however, does not constitute an actual disruption simply because some may have been offended by the words use or found the message disrespectful,” she wrote.

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In a letter accompanying the proposal, the commission’s executive director said the city attorney’s office had been consulted and that the rules complied with open meeting laws.

The local chapter of Black Lives Matter called the proposed rules “one of the most blatant efforts to silent an engaged public and a direct attack on their 1st Amendment rights and on Black Lives Matter as a whole.” Activists also criticized the commissioners at Tuesday’s meeting, accusing the board of trying to stifle them.

The rules were designed to “establish an appropriate level of safety, decorum and efficiency” during the meetings and avoid “delay, distraction and disruption,” according to the document initially put before the commission.

Some of the guidelines formally outlined existing practices -- for example, that audience members must pass through a metal detector and submit speaker cards before addressing the board.

But the proposed rules also contained a section on decorum, saying attendees were “expected to behave in a civil manner at all times.”

Audience members would be prohibited from using “loud, threatening or abusive language, whistling, stamping feet or other acts which cause a disruption of the meeting or otherwise impede the orderly conduct.”

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Under the proposal, anyone who breaks the rules would first be warned. If they continued to disrupt the meeting, they could be asked to leave -- and removed by police if they don’t.

The recommendations warned that anyone who then resists police could be charged.

Activists have blasted the Police Commission in recent meetings over shootings by LAPD officers, sometimes interrupting board members or speakers with calls for change. There have also been terse back-and-forth exchanges between members of the audience and the board.

The five-member commission abruptly recessed two back-to-back meetings in August amid shouting by some attendees. During one, police declared an unlawful assembly -- opening the door for potential arrests -- before protesters cleared the room. A week later, officers were preparing to give a dispersal order as the group left.

Police Commission President Steve Soboroff said Monday that the board did not intend to restrict anyone’s rights. “That is not what we’re going to do,” he said.

“The business of the Police Commission has to go on, and it has to go on in a safe environment and a civil environment, certainly respecting every constitutional and legal right of everyone,” he said.

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