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Two very different LA councilmembers want to reform police misconduct board

Two of the newest members of the Los Angeles City Council – a progressive who campaigned on defunding the police and a more moderate councilmember who once worked for the union representing L.A. police officers – have tag-teamed to push for sweeping reforms to increase police accountability.

Councilmembers Hugo Soto-Martínez, a frequent critic of the LAPD, and Tim McOsker, a former lobbyist for the Los Angeles Police Protective League, on Friday, Feb. 17, introduced a motion to repeal an all-civilian board that determines how officers accused of misconduct are disciplined.

The motion calls for changing the composition of future boards and authorizing LAPD Chief Michel Moore, and future chiefs, to immediately fire officers before they’ve had their due process hearing in certain egregious cases.

Currently, officers accused of misconduct go before a Board of Rights, a three-person panel that reviews evidence, determines whether the officer is guilty and recommends whether to approve, reduce or increase the level of punishment as suggested by Moore. The chief can then take action as long as the punishment doesn’t exceed the board’s recommendation.

Traditionally, the Board of Rights has been comprised of two officers ranked as captain or higher and one civilian. But in 2017, voters authorized the City Council to permit officers to go before an all-civilian board, an option which the council adopted two years later.

Since then, an analysis suggests that the all-civilian board tends to be more lenient than the traditional board, according to the councilmembers seeking reforms.

“We need to take the lessons learned and implement process improvements,” McOsker said in a statement. “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.”

The all-civilian board option was intended “to increase police accountability. However, after analyzing almost four years of Board of Rights hearings and determinations, it is clear that the opposite is true,” states the motion brought forth by Soto-Martínez and McOsker, which was seconded by City Council President Paul Krekorian.

Councilmembers who support the motion want to repeal the all-civilian board, which they say in more than 75% of the cases gives officers a lesser punishment than the police chief recommended.

Sponsors of the motion cite a review by the Office of the Inspector General, which noted that between June 23, 2019, and Dec. 31, 2021, the police chief recommended the removal of 55 officers. Of those 55 officers, 37 elected to go before an all-civilian board, and in more than two-thirds of those cases, the board determined that the officer was not guilty or recommended a lesser punishment than the police chief recommended.

That’s why 91% of officers facing discipline elect to go before civilians, according to a news release put out by the offices of Soto-Martínez and McOsker.

The release also noted that Mayor Karen Bass recently called for the police chief to work with the city council “to reform or remove” the all-civilian board option, and that Moore also supports reforms.

On Friday, Soto-Martínez and McOsker proposed granting the police chief authority to immediately fire officers in extreme cases.

“We see examples of egregious misconduct, and because of this unjust system, the officers at fault can’t even be fired,” Soto-Martínez said. “Why are we paying millions of dollars to officers who were deemed unfit for service by their own Chief of Police?”

The board for the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union representing rank-and-file LAPD officers, expressed disappointment with their proposal.

“We are disappointed that the makers of the motion have such little confidence in civilians playing an integral role in our discipline process when the entire LAPD is overseen by an all civilian Board of Police Commissioners,” the board said in a statement. “Police Chiefs have corruptly tipped the scales of justice with our Board of Rights system by injecting favoritism, settling scores and wrongly targeting officers for discipline. Civilian hearing examiners simply leveled the playing field and Chief Moore doesn’t like that.”

The LAPPL board said it opposes any chief having “unfettered ability to terminate police officers without due process” and said the idea is “ripe for cronyism and corruption.”

The fact that the motion was a joint effort between Soto-Martínez, who has called for cuts to the LAPD’s budget, and McOsker, who worked for the police union when it advocated for an all-civilian board, did raise a few eyebrows on Friday.

McOsker characterized the collaboration with Soto-Martínez as “working together to make sure we’re responsive to the needs of the department” and of constituents and the city. He called it an effort to “have transparency and responsiveness and accountability” in LAPD.

As part of their motion, Soto-Martínez and McOsker proposed that the council ask the city attorney to draft an ordinance to repeal the all-civilian board and a second ordinance to improve the pool of candidates for civilian board members — by including civilians with diverse experiences and perspectives and prohibiting current or former employees of law enforcement agencies from serving.

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The motion by Soto-Martínez and McOsker will be heard in the council’s Public Safety Committee and its Civil Rights, Equity, Immigration, Aging, and Disability Committee before it’s considered by the full council.

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