No on ‘C’ Means No on Cynicism … and Yes on (Real) Community-Based Policing!

ON THE BUTCHER BLOCK-Charter Amendment C on LA’s citywide May 16 ballot is exactly the kind of measure that makes people cynical. This ”[n]oxious sleight of hand” was snuck onto the ballot by a quiet, unanimous vote of the City Council this past January. No deep public engagement, no hearings at the Police Commission. 

For most people, at first blush, it sounds good. How many people already voted yes just ‘cause the Mayor and the Police Union signed the ballot argument in favor of it? Smart people, engaged citizens? Duped and cynical. 

Thankfully we’ve got a good local newspaper.

From the LA Times first editorial against Measure C, Measure C pretends to be about police reform. Instead, it's a noxious sleight of hand. Vote no!  

The charter amendment would leave the selection of civilians — who is eligible, how the pool is chosen — to the City Council. Will the pool be stocked with retired police officers? We don’t know. Will it be filled by police reformers or critics from Black Lives Matter? We don’t know — although the police union seems confident that the council will craft the selection process to its satisfaction. 

That’s why, despite assertions in campaign brochures that Charter Amendment C would create a “civilian review board,” implying that it would operate like those in other cities and which reform advocates here have long sought, it would do no such thing. That’s why most reform advocates strongly oppose the measure. They see it for what it is: a sleight of hand that gives the appearance of civilian oversight while actually giving the union just what it wants. 

But the sneakiest part of the measure is the May 16 ballot itself. There are runoffs in two council districts and two school board districts, but otherwise Charter Amendment C is the only thing on the ballot, so few voters — other than those rallied by the Police Protective League and city politicians that crave the union’s support — are expected to bother. Voters can, and should, resist that cynical tactic and the ill-considered change in police discipline by voting “No.” 

And from its second editorial against the measure, Don't be fooled — Measure C is a union ploy to go soft on police misconduct:  

Over two decades, there have been many thoughtful, independent analysts who agreed with the union that the current Board of Rights system should be replaced — but who rejected all-civilian panels. The Rampart Independent Review Panel, for example, urged the city to limit the Board of Rights to fact-finding — did the officer truly commit misconduct? — and leave actual punishment decisions to the chief, who would have to follow guidelines adopted by the Police Commission. 

Other proposals have included making the Police Commission itself a true civilian review board by allowing it to make discipline decisions. These and other suggested reforms are well considered and should be among the options presented to voters or the council. 

They are not on the May 16 ballot, because Charter Amendment C is not one of those thoughtful proposals that an independent panel arrived at following a process of interviews, testimony and study. It is the result of private talks between top city officials and the Police Protective League. Union leaders surely see the advantage to their members of being able to choose among differently formatted Boards of Rights. If some future council changes the criteria for selecting civilian members to make them tougher on accused officers, those officers would still be able to select a board without a civilian majority. 

It’s not as though the Boards of Rights are inordinately tough on officers. They reject more than half of the chief’s requests for discipline. 

Police officers have a constitutional right not to be fired or otherwise punished on a whim or out of personal animus or political pressure. They are entitled to an appeals system that offers due process, and they ought to have a system they perceive to be fair. What they will get, if Charter Amendment C passes, is an unwarranted choice of arbiters and a chance to further undermine the chief’s ability to run his department, as well as the public’s ability to hold him accountable. Voters should say no to Charter Amendment C. 

How did this happen? Politicians snuck it on the ballot in the last off-year election LA will see? Oh my, cynical me! But look! There are still investigative reporters at the LA Times, A 'backroom deal'? Groups that pushd crackdown on police misconduct were left out of talks between Garcetti and the LAPD union (I love The Palms! Do they still have those amazing pickled tomatoes?): 

…those groups — and the larger public — were effectively locked out as Garcetti and the LAPD’s rank-and-file officers union worked on an overhaul of the department’s disciplinary system, interviews and city records obtained by The Times show. Those talks, launched roughly two years ago, led to the creation of Charter Amendment C, which would introduce one of the most significant changes to the LAPD’s disciplinary process in decades. 

Those same groups are now campaigning against the May 16 ballot measure, which would allow police disciplinary panels, also known as Boards of Rights, to be composed entirely of civilians. Foes warn the measure will make the panels more lenient toward officers, pointing to a city report that concluded civilians have been voting for less severe punishment. 

At this late date, our local press is paying attention. Decent analysis, for instance, from Los Angeles Magazine, May 8: If You Care About Police Oversight, You Need to Vote on May 16:

Believe it or not, May 16 marks yet another local election. With so few items on the ballot, it’s tempting to sit this one out—especially if you’re not in a district with a city council run-off, or if you’re not up on the latest school board elections. For many Angelenos there’s only one thing to even vote on—a little-discussed Charter Amendment that, at first glance, seems like a good thing. (Civilian oversight! Police being held accountable for misconduct! Who could argue with that?) But here’s why you should still show up on May 16—and why you should vote “No” on C. 

And KPCC’s Frank Stoltze offers an excellent summary and analysis of the measure (as usual!) LA's Measure C upends politics around police discipline:  

Concerned that all-civilian panels would be too soft on misbehaving cops, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, civil rights attorney Connie Rice and Black Lives Matter leader Melina Abdullah have all lined up against Measure C. 

"Charter Amendment C is the wolf in civilian oversight's clothing," said Abdullah. "I think it’ s really about a mayor who has ambitions to seek higher office doing a favor for the police union." 

Jason McGahan writes on the measure for the LA Weekly: Will Measure C Make It Easier for Misbehaving Cops to Go Unpunished?  

LAist summarizes the opposition organizing against Measure C: Why The L.A. Times, The ACLU, And Black Lives Matter Oppose Measure C.  

Rabbi Aryeh Cohen in the April 28 Jewish Journal, Oppose Charter Amendment C—and strengthen democracy, explains why the process of getting Measure C to the ballot is as bad as the substance of the ill-conceived change:

“Beyond the fact that this amendment is bad for the residents of the city, the process is bad for democracy. In order for there to be a robust democratic conversation about the issues that impact our city, the residents of the city need to be convinced that the conversation matters, that things can change for the better. If instead of this, the ballot process is used in an underhanded and disingenuous way people—who in any event are working really hard to support themselves and their families, and do not have an abundance of leisure time—will be dissuaded from taking part in the process. Turnout for special elections is already low. We need to defeat this spurious measure so that special elections are no longer used to pass measures that otherwise would be debated and defeated.” 

Rosemary Jenkins opposes the measure in Dick & Sharon's LA Progressive:  

“I urge a No vote when you go to the polls this May. All officers must be held accountable for their actions–for all their actions–the good, the bad, the ugly, and the unforgiveable–but let us make certain that the procedures are objective and fair to all and are not tilted toward one or the other side of the scales of justice. We must never be guilty of being party to a low-voter turn-out. Each vote does count, and we must make ours not only count but be cast as an enlightened act. In the end, it is better to vote on what you know than guess about something about which you have little understanding. It is, therefore, incumbent upon us to be part of an informed electorate.” 

And from the Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN)

The Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN) and over 75 other local organizations from across LA urge all voters to vote NO on Charter Amendment C on May 16. 

If passed, Charter Amendment C would actually give LAPD officers already found guilty of misconduct a way to avoid discipline and punishment. It is a intentionally misleading ballot measure that was created and is being funded by the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the LAPD police union. Why would the LAPD union want more “accountability” and “civilian oversight”? Simple: They don’t. 

This measure is NOT about accountability. It will actually make LA more unsafe by giving officers ALREADY FOUND GUILTY OF MISCONDUCT more options to avoid punishment – putting these guilty officers back on our streets and in our communities. 

Charter Amendment C is NO about “civilian” oversight. According to the measure, a “civilian” must have years of mediation and arbitration experience. Also, there are only 38 of these “civilians” currently allowed to serve on the Board of Rights panel – and the majority of them have been in this group for over 9 years. Does these people sound like your neighbors, family members, or friends? 

Charter Amendment C is NOT about accountability or oversight. It is about guilty cops getting out of discipline. Vote #NoOnC on May 16!


(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.