Mayor Eric Garcetti put his mark on the Los Angeles Police Department on Wednesday, announcing plans to shake up the civilian panel that oversees the force with four new members.
The most notable name on Garcetti’s list of nominees was real estate developer Steve Soboroff, one of the city’s power elite and a staunch supporter of Garcetti during his run for mayor.
Joining Soboroff were Paula Madison, a former journalist and media executive; Kathleen Kim, a law professor whose work has focused on human trafficking and immigration issues; and Sandra Figueroa-Villa, the executive director of a non-profit community group.
The choices represent a notable lack of experience in policing issues. Although such knowledge has not been a prerequisite for past appointees to the board, the arrival to the commission of these four all at once equates to a dramatic loss of institutional knowledge of how the LAPD operates, its strengths and weaknesses.
Being pushed out by Garcetti, for example, is John Mack, a civil rights leader, who has served on the commission for several years and is well-versed in the department’s troubled history of abuses and its push to reform itself over the past decade. Also leaving is Andrea Ordin, a former federal prosecutor who long has been involved in efforts to reform the LAPD.
The only current member of the Commission who Garcetti opted to keep on is Robert Saltzman, a dean and professor at University of Southern California’s law school.
The shake-up of the influential body comes at a notable time for the LAPD and the commission. Emerging from more than a decade marked by sweeping reforms that were imposed on it by federal officials, the LAPD has become, once again, its own master, and the commission is fully on its own in the task of keeping the agency in check.
The commission acts much like a corporate board of directors, setting the LAPD’s policies, approving its $1 billion annual budget and overseeing the agency’s operations.
One of the board’s most important roles plays out behind closed doors at the panel’s weekly meetings, when commissioners decide whether officer shootings and other serious uses of force were appropriate. It also relies heavily on its Inspector General, whose staff investigates and audits various aspects of the department on behalf of the commission.
With crime rates at historic lows and the department generally regarded as a standard-bearer when it comes to oversight and community relations, the commission and LAPD commanders under Chief Charlie Beck have taken a mostly polite, cooperative approach to the job of running one of the nation’s largest police forces.
How that relationship will change, if at all, under the new commission remains to be seen. Soboroff, for one, is known for a down-to-earth, friendly demeanor. The 64-year-old, who amassed a fortune as a retail real estate landlord and broker, was an also-ran in the 2001 mayoral election. Later, he served as parks commissioner for former Mayor Richard Riordan and played a pivotal role in bringing Staples Center to downtown Los Angeles.
More recently, Soboroff, had a short-lived, unpleasant tenure as vice-chairman of the Dodgers, during then-owner Frank McCourt’s ugly battle for control of the team with Major League Baseball. He is a board member or advisor to a handful of organizations, including the California Science Center, where he was instrumental in convincing NASA to exhibit the Space Shuttle Endeavour in Los Angeles.
Kim, 38, teaches at Loyola Law School and has spent much of her career working to combat illegal trafficking of laborers. The daughter of Korean immigrants, Kim co-wrote the state’s current trafficking law and represented victims in some of the first civil lawsuits against traffickers.
She serves on the board of directors at Aurora Las Encinas Hospital, a mental hospital in Pasadena owned by her father’s company. She staunchly defended the facility earlier this year when it came under fire for allegedly failing to alert authorities to an abusive employee and other supervision issues.
Madison, 60, is a partner in Williams Group Holdings, a Chicago-based company she runs with relatives, which owns the Los Angeles Sparks, a team in the Woman’s National Basketball Assn.
Until her retirement in 2011, Madison was an executive at NBCUniversal, where she oversaw diversity issues. Over more than two decades in the media corporation, she held many different reporting and management posts, including a stint as president of the NBC affiliate in Los Angeles.
And for more than three decades, Figueroa-Villa has been executive director at El Centro del Pueblo, a group based in Echo Park that provides a range of services to the poor and other at-risk groups.
Figueroa-Villa also has served on several commissions and boards, including the city’s Children, Youth and Family Commission and the commission for the Los Angeles Unified School District that addressed redistricting issues.
In making his choices, Garcetti maintained a racial balance on the commission that is widely considered important, given the LAPD’s history of abuses in minority communities and the premium the department has placed in recent years on moving beyond its dark past.
Saltzman, the commission’s lone holdover, is gay and speaks frequently about the department’s efforts to support gay officers and the city’s gay residents.