LOS ANGELES (CNS) - A new policy allowing police officers to chose a disciplinary panel composed of three civilian members is set to be considered by a Los Angeles City Council committee today.
The City Council voted last year to have the city's attorneys draft a proposed ordinance that would give Los Angeles police officers facing possible discipline the option of appearing before an all-civilian review board, or the current and only option of two command-level officers and a civilian. The ordinance has now been drafted and is set to be considered by the Ad Hoc Police Reform Committee.
A measure calling for the changes was placed on the May 2017 ballot by the City Council with the support of Mayor Eric Garcetti, Council President Herb Wesson and the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union representing the department's rank-and-file officers. Charter Amendment C passed with 57.14 percent of the vote.
Current rules require the civilian panel member to have a clean criminal record and at least seven years experience with arbitration, mediation, administrative hearings or comparable work, which has led the Board of Rights panels to be stocked with many retired judges and lawyers. City Council President Herb Wesson has expressed a desire to change the rules so regular citizens could serve on the panels.
The City Council also last year directed the Police Commission to make changes to the qualifications for civilian hearing examiners to enhance diversity, increase the number of city residents, and allow for the inclusion of retired police officers who have been off the force at least one year.
A report from the ACLU of Southern California, Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles, and Community Coalition said that people with past arrests should not be excluded from the panels, but that retired police officers should be excluded.
“The City Council has the opportunity to make good with its voters and implement a disciplinary process that is fair and transparent,” said Melanie Ochoa, ACLU SoCal staff attorney, when the report was issued. “Officers who commit serious misconduct should not get a free pass.”
The LAPPL has argued the current system is unfair because of the belief that the police chief has undue influence on sworn members of Board of Rights panels.
Wesson, Garcetti and the council pushed for Measure C to be placed on the ballot despite a study of the LAPD's system that found civilians have been found to be more lenient on officers.
“If statistics and numbers would indicate that there is a certain degree of leniency when people, civilians, citizens are involved, then we need to change the way that we select the citizens,” Wesson said in 2017.
The ACLU report also said that the Board of Rights outcomes and voting patterns should be reported regularly, with the hearings audited, and that all disciplinary records should be posted by the departments, along with other recommended changes.
The Los Angeles Times Editorial Board opposed Measure C, writing in 2017 that “there is precious little evidence that there is anything wrong with the current discipline process, other than that officers and their union don't like it.”
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