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Police face heightened scrutiny

As Burbank moves to increase oversight of its Police Department, which is under federal investigation for officer misconduct and excessive use of force, the issue of transparency has emerged as key part of its strategy.

At a joint meeting this week with the Police Commission, Burbank City Council members endorsed bringing on two well-known outside consultants to monitor the internal affairs of the department, and to make their regular assessments and reports public.

The Police Commission still must hammer out the contract details for the two consultants — Michael Gennaco, who heads the Los Angeles County Office of Independent Review, and Robert Corbin, an attorney who was staff counsel to the Independent Commission on the Los Angeles Police Department.

Corbin has already worked with Burbank, having been brought on to review the Burbank Use of Force audit and to evaluate city attorney candidates.

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Gennaco’s agency provides civilian oversight of the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, which recently has come under fire for mistreatment of inmates. Gennaco raised concerns about the issue some two years ago, but reportedly was ignored by Sheriff’s officials.

Police Chief Scott LaChasse said in an email Thursday that his department supported the external oversight.

“Law enforcement professionals consider external oversight to be necessary and proper to maintain accountability, transparency and public confidence,” he said.

Under the preliminary plan, Corbin would oversee the department’s strategic plan, which is being put in place following officer-involved shootings, allegations of excessive use of force and outside investigations by the FBI.

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Gennaco would review a percentage of cases that would be randomly selected each year.

During the joint meeting at City Hall Wednesday, council members and commissioners explored the types of cases they would like to see reviewed annually, including use-of-force and fatal incidents, and asked questions of Gennaco, who attended the meeting.

The details of each three-year contract, including cost, will be brought back to the City Council for final approval.

The move would provide the public with a picture of the police department it has yet to see, as the findings of the consultants would be made public.

“I think that has always been the intent,” Councilman Dave Golonski said in an interview.

He added that he saw Corbin as playing a supportive role to the Police Commission, which would take the lead on monitoring the progress of implementing the strategic plan.

“One of the things I think is a key role with the Police Commission is to monitor the implementation of the strategic plan,” Golonski said.

Under the plans discussed this week, the additional oversight and monitoring also will bring greater transparency — Gennaco’s reports to the City Council likely will be made public.

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“When the report is issued, it will provide a wealth of information about the challenges the department has faced over the auditing period,” Gennaco said in an interview. “The city of Burbank has never had that opportunity. Most of the information about the controversy has come from [media reports]. The reports will provide a significant step in transparency.”

Gennaco also said oversight was needed “indefinitely.”

“I think it’s important to have a sustained review process of some sort,” he said. “As soon as a fresh set of eyes stops looking at it, there could be slippage in implementation or the continued abidance of policies.”

Golonski echoed those sentiments.

History shows that departments typically do very well on the job in the aftermath of major problems or investigations, he said.

“The real challenge,” Golonski said, “is to put in place [policy that is] sustainable and effective after a long period of time.”


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