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Los Angeles City Councilmen Hugo Soto-Martínez, 13th District, and Tim McOsker, 15th District, introduced a motion on Feb. 17 to reform the discipline and accountability process for police misconduct.
The motion, seconded by Council President Paul Krekorian, 2nd District, seeks to reform the all-civilian Board of Rights, which was created under the 2017 ballot initiative Measure C. More than 75% of disciplinary hearings held by the Board of Rights have resulted in less punishment than was recommended by the chief of police, the council members said.
A primary objective of Measure C, which allows officers the option to choose an all-civilian disciplinary Board of Rights, was to increase accountability. However, in practice, panels with traditional compositions ended up holding twice as many officers accountable. Given that outcome, it explains why 91% of officers accused of misconduct chose the all-civilian Board of Rights for disciplinary measures, the council members said.
“The intention of Measure C was not realized. We need to take the lessons learned and implement process improvements,” McOsker said. “The system and staffing currently in place for those charged with misconduct do not promote accountability, but often impede it. We need a menu of options to pave the way in how we comprehensively fix a broken system. Reform is necessary, and we want to use every tool to get this right.”
“We see examples of egregious misconduct, and because of this unjust system, the officers at fault can’t even be fired,” Soto-Martínez added, “Why are we paying millions of dollars to officers who were deemed unfit for service by their own chief of police?”
Amid growing calls for police accountability, Mayor Karen Bass called for LAPD Chief Michel Moore to work with the City Council “to reform or remove” the all-civilian option for Board of Rights disciplinary review. Moore has also expressed support for reforming Measure C.
“I will continue to commit to work with LAPPL, the police commission and our elected officials to improve our disciplinary system that is fair, accountable and transparent,” Moore said.
The council members are exploring the option of enabling the police chief to immediately fire officers for egregious cases. According to the Office of the Inspector General, Moore recommended 55 officers for termination from the LAPD between June 2019 and January 2022. Of those 55 officers, 37 chose an all-civilian Board of Rights and in over two-thirds of those cases, the boards found the accused officers not guilty, or decided upon a lesser punishment than was recommended.
Another option is reexamining the criteria for civilians to serve as panelists, along with further professionalizing the prosecutorial side of the panel. Currently, a sworn sergeant advocates for an accused officer. The motion by Soto-Martínez and McOsker seeks to treat the hearings as trials, with an attorney representing the prosecution and defense to increase fairness and accountability.
“Cases of police misconduct are rare exceptions to the professionalism and commitment to public safety of our Los Angeles Police Department. But when cases of police misconduct do occur, they need to be addressed swiftly and effectively,” Krekorian said. “We have now seen that Board of Rights panels made up entirely of civilians tend to be far more lenient than boards composed of both civilians and police officers. Sworn police officers have a strong interest in holding their fellow officers to the highest standard of conduct, and they have the professional expertise to understand the application of department policy. It is time to balance the composition of all Board of Rights panels with both police and civilians with diverse perspectives, in order to ensure accountability and support our continuing efforts to reduce misconduct.”
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