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Editorial: Rushing a police discipline measure to the May ballot would be a cynical ploy

In addition to the Los Angeles city election coming up on March 7, there will be a runoff on May 16, and thankfully it should be the last of its kind. Participation is so low in odd-year city elections that the few people who did show up in 2015 voted to scrap the municipal election calendar and consolidate future city elections with the even-year presidential and gubernatorial ones, which produce better turnouts.

But the new schedule doesn’t kick in until 2020, so we have one last double-round of odd-year balloting. The May election, especially, could be a record-breaker for voter turnout, and not in a good way. None of Mayor Eric Garcetti’s 10 challengers has captured the public imagination so far, and it would not be unusual for an incumbent to win more than 50% of the vote in March and avoid the May runoff. City Atty. Mike Feuer and Controller Ron Galperin don’t even have any opponents, so there could be no citywide office on the ballot.

What a perfect place to quietly slip in a proposed city charter amendment that would completely overhaul police disciplinary review boards to tilt the balance in favor of cops. Hardly anyone will be coming out to vote — except those who are organized by the police union and its supporters to give a thumbs-up to the ballot measure.

That’s the cynical ploy that the City Council will be considering this week. With Garcetti’s backing, the Police Protective League — the union representing the rank-and-file officers who come before the disciplinary boards — is pushing a measure to oust Los Angeles Police Department leaders from the boards in favor of all-civilian panels. That may sound like a solid move until you read the reports showing that civilians routinely go easier on officers facing discipline than their uniformed leaders do.

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The current police discipline system has been intact since the early 1990s, so even if a change is warranted, there is no pressing need to rush one onto this last of the lowest-turnout ballots — no reason, that is, except to secure the desired result with a get-out-the-vote campaign carefully targeting just those voters likely to approve the measure.

Acknowledging that the disciplinary system hasn’t even been reviewed or evaluated in more than 20 years, council President Herb Wesson recently called for a series of reports and community meetings on just that subject. That would have been a great idea — if those reports and meetings had taken place before the council had made its choice and was preparing to put it on the ballot.

Moving ahead with a ballot measure before any of those reports and meetings, however, is a very bad idea. A council with its collective eye on the best interests of the entire city, and not merely the police union, should see that.

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