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Los Angeles Measure C – That’s C as in Cynical!

THE BUTCHER SHOP-Measure C? Charter reform of the police disciplinary system? On the May 16 runoff ballot? Seriously? Wonder why people are so cynical?

Right now, the improvements made by the LAPD in the 25 years since those scary nights of the LA riots are hailed as the way forward for big city police departments. Communities across America look to Los Angeles for a way out of Ferguson and Cleveland and Florida – and the bad old days of the LAPD. 

Instead, Measure C represents a step backwards for police reform and accountability at a time the LAPD and the LAPPL should shine and lead. 

As the recommendations of the Christopher Commission were implemented in and after 1992, the composition of Police Review Boards (BOR) changed from all sworn to three-member panels that include one civilian along with two LAPD officers at the level of Captain or above. At the time, the police union opposed the change. 

During the charter reform years, both panels debated changes to police discipline, seeking to be fair to the workers and to the community they serve.

There’s not a lot that’s as reliable in the City of Los Angeles as a report from the City Legislative Analyst (CLA). Here are their numbers: 

ANALYSIS OF OUTCOMES

According to the LAPD, the Department concluded 287 BOR hearings from 2011 to November 2016. In 229 cases, the Chief directed an officer to a BOR hearing with the recommendation that the officer he terminated. The remaining hearings were cases in which an officer opted to have a hearing on a demotion or suspension.

According to LAPD, BORs returned a guilty verdict in 190 cases, but only recommended removal of the officer in 112 cases. Less than half of the officers directed to a BOR by the Chief with a recommendation that they be removed from employment were actually terminated after the hearings. Similarly, in the 58 Opted Boards for demotion or suspension cases over the last six years, BORs have acquitted 15 officers and have concurred with the Chiefs recommended disciplinary measures in only 12 cases. 

Civilian Voting Patterns

When evaluating the merits of an all-civilian or majority-civilian BOR panel over a panel made up of sworn officers and a civilian, the Council may wish to consider the voting history of civilian Hearing Examiners. During the period from 2011 to November 2016, civilian Hearing Examiners were consistently more lenient than their sworn officer counterparts. In the 39 Directed BOR cases where the Chief recommended termination but a BOR acquitted accused officers, the civilian member voted for acquittal in every case. During this period, 16 of the remaining 190 termination cases heard by BORs were decided by 2-1 margins. In each case, the Hearing Examiner voted for the more lenient option. 

Civilian BOR members have also voted for reduced penalties in every case where a BOR found an officer guilty of misconduct, and have also consistently voted for lesser punishments or acquittals in Opted Boards dealing with demotions or suspensions. As in Directed Boards, civilian BOR members did not vote in the minority in demotion or suspension cases, and have been reliable votes for either lesser penalties for misconduct or for acquittal. During this period, there were 4 demotion or suspension cases decided by a 2 to 1 margin. In all cases, the civilian voted for the more lenient outcome. 

On the other side of the building, a May 2 report from the Inspector General to the Police Commission delineates 25 specific recommendations for action. From the LA Times’ Police panel calls for more LAPD reforms to address racial bias, discipline and community policing: “Los Angeles police commissioners approved a wide-ranging set of recommendations on Tuesday that called on the LAPD to improve how it guards against possible racial bias by officers, strengthen community policing and evaluate the department’s discipline system.” 

The 54-page report, Review of National Best Practices, pulls extensively from the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, 2015 “Final Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing”: One of the Task Force’s overarching recommendations is that law enforcement culture embrace a “guardian mindset” to build public trust and legitimacy, and that agencies adopt the concept of procedural justice as the guiding principle for their policies and practices, both external and internal. As part of this process, the Task Force recommended that agencies “acknowledge the role of policing in past and present injustice and discrimination” and the difficulty this poses in building community trust. 

“We need to keep looking for ways to continue to make this department the best it can be,” said Matt Johnson, the panel’s president, in response to the report. “We need to continue engaging meaningfully with questions about community trust, race and use of force. I believe that these reports and recommendations provide a path forward to doing just that.” 

Council President Herb Wesson told the LA Times on January 24 City Council approves ballot measure that could put more civilians on LAPD discipline panels that, as far as he is concerned, this is just a start: “I believe that once we open this door, it will be easier for us to open it again and again if we want to make additional changes,” he said. “Is this perfect? No. Is it flawed? Yes. But I do believe that it’s a step in the right direction.” 

In its strong endorsement against the measure, the LA Times’ Measure C pretends to be about police reform. Instead, it's a noxious sleight of hand. Vote no begins: “Seldom has an effort to alter Los Angeles’ governing blueprint been as clever and underhanded as Charter Amendment C, a little-noticed measure on the little-noticed May 16 city ballot that would change how police officers are disciplined for misconduct. Seldom have city officials been so sly in their effort to slip something so noxious past L.A. voters.” 

Here's what the League of Women Voters Los Angeles say Measure C would do:

Measure C would amend the City Charter to give the City Council the authority to allow a police officer accused of misconduct to choose to have the case heard by a Police Department Board of Rights panel composed either of: a) two police officers with the rank of captain or above, and one civilian chosen from a list of carefully screened professional mediators, as is currently the case, or b) three civilians. Measure C does not define the criteria for who would serve on this 3-member civilian panel. Police officers could choose whether to have their case heard by the traditional Board of Rights or the civilian Board of Rights. 

On Larry Mantle’s Air Talk, April 27, We debate Measure C: Should all-civilian boards review police disciplinary matters? PPL President Craig Lally argued that it’s a matter of fairness, that there’s an inherent conflict because everyone reports to the same Chief and that they’re always worried about the impact “bucking a decision” might have on future promotions or assignments. “There are four captains suing right now,” he noted, after rendering not guilty determinations. “They’ve experienced reduction in rank, didn’t get promotions they should’ve received.” 

Peter Bibring responded on behalf of the Southern California ACLU and a growing coalition opposing the measure: “Given that civilian examiners are more lenient than sworn examiners in every instance of dispute and more than half of the cases referred from BOR’s are overturned, this would make it dramatically harder to hold the police accountable; this is not a measure to increase transparency or accountability.” 

WHO’S ORGANIZING AGAINST MEASURE C? 

From Bike the Vote:

Measure C – the lone item on the May 16 general election ballot for most voters in the City of Los Angeles. The Measure, which is backed by the L.A. Police Protective League, purports to increase civilian oversight of the L.A. Police Department, but is in actuality a deceptive ploy to reduce accountability. Bike The Vote L.A. joins organizations concerned with civil rights, social justice, and police reform – including ACLU of Southern California, Black Lives Matter L.A., Community Coalition, L.A. Community Action Network, and Strategic Actions for a Just Economy, among others – in opposing this harmful measure. 

Organizing opposition is starting to show up to call out this cynical, hypocritical move by LA’s pols:

Share this powerful video message from LA-CAN: Los Angeles: Vote NO on Charter Amendment C on May 16!  

Rabbi Jonathan Klein of CLUE (Clergy & Laity United for Economic Justice) says of his organization’s opposition to the measure: “A transparency measure suddenly appearing on an off-cycle ballot, that sneaked up on us and which lacks a published communal rebuttal argument?  If the appearance of this ballot measure feels so unexpected, is supported by the very agencies that community groups believe need more oversight, why should anyone trust that this is what it says it is?  Sure enough, the ACLU and others have the data that lead us to believe that this might actually DIMINISH true civilian oversight. Both CLUE and our Black-Jewish Justice Alliance (in partnership with the SCLC) oppose Measure C.” 

Get the facts! Share the facts! Time for voting! Sign the pledge to vote no on C here and share this information with all your LA-voting friends! Yes on Los Angeles moving forward – No on C! No on cynicism! 

(Julie Butcher writes for CityWatch and is a retired union leader now enjoying her new La Crescenta home and her first grandchild. She can be reached at [email protected] or on her new blog ‘The Butcher Shop - No Bones about It.’) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.