Don’t Settle for Less
Kevin (Arie) Gres
It sounded good. It read well. It was described with all that nice, warm, flowery language that makes us feel like we are making the world a better place. It had broad political support of our many politicians like Paul Koretz and Herb Wesson. It was even supported by the police unions. So, what could possibly be the problem with Charter C, a recently passed amendment to the city charter that claims to hold LAPD officers accountable for misconduct by using civilian members of our own community? How could anyone vote against that?
To strengthen the question, why would groups like the African American Cultural Center, Black Lives Matter, League of Women Voters, The National Lawyers Guild, The Los Angeles Times Editorial Board, The LA Watts Times, and the Los Angeles Sentinel all urge the public to vote against Charter C? Were they advocating for police misconduct? Do they not want more law enforcement accountability? Additionally, the police unions generally advocate for less oversight, why did they urge Angelenos to pass Charter C?
While this may sound like a v’nahapoch hu Purim riddle, it is just Los Angeles politics at its worst.
The answer is unfortunately simple – Charter C is among the most deceptive pieces of municipal legislation to be voted on and passed in years. It will undoubtedly breed further distrust and racial divide in this city, deepening the growing chasm between civilians and law enforcement.
Let me explain myself.
When an LAPD officer is accused of misconduct (i.e. assault, tampering with evidence, excessive force, perjury), his or her chain of command opens its own internal investigation and decides if the officer is guilty of misconduct, and if so, what the punishment should be. If the Chief decides an officer was guilty of gross misconduct and should be punished (demoted, suspended, terminated, etc.), officers can appeal the Chief’s decision by going before the Board of Rights, a three-person panel comprised of two police officers holding the rank of Captain or higher, and one randomly selected civilian. This three-person panel can vote to overturn the Chief’s decision or vote to accept the Chief’s recommendation. The Board cannot vote to punish officers the Chief has already decided not to punish, nor can they increase punishment the Chief recommends. They can only acquit, decrease punishment, or accept the Chief’s decision.
So, what’s the problem? Let’s continue:
Who is this randomly selected civilian to act as the counterweight to police misconduct? This individual must have at least seven years’ experience with arbitration or mediation, and must pass a private interview with the Police Commission. If they pass, they enter the pool to be drawn from at random, to serve on the Board of Rights. The Police Commission has exclusive control over who gets to be part of the pool and who does not.
Since this Board of Rights was enacted in 1995, the voting records of these “randomly selected civilians” are abnormally different than the voting records of the two LAPD officers they serve with. Over the past five years, Chief Beck recommended firing 229 LAPD officers for gross misconduct (which is no simple task), the Board of Rights overturned the Chief a whopping 117 times. Of those 117 cases, the “randomly selected civilian” voted every single time to overturn the Chief. In other words, there was never a “two officers for acquittal, one civilian for guilty” vote – not ever. Nor was there ever a one officer and one “randomly selected citizen” for guilt, and one officer for acquittal. This “randomly selected civilian” is far more lenient and less likely to punish an officer already found guilty by the Chief than his or her two LAPD counterparts. This highly suspicious pattern of voting is no secret. Even LAPD Chief Charlie Beck recognized this voting phenomenon during a recent interview about Charter C.
It has been further noted, that oftentimes, if one of these civilians does not vote in favor of the officer they are coincidentally never “randomly” selected again to serve on the Board of Rights by the Police Commission. They are effectively removed.
To put it plainly and simply, the entire police disciplinary appeals process is rigged.
I know many of you may be thinking that these claims seem counterintuitive. We expect the two LAPD Board of Rights members to be in cahoots with the LAPD officer in question, and the civilian, the lone voice of justice. In theory you may be right, but practically you are very wrong.
LAPD officers with the rank of Captain or higher actually do a better job of holding other officers accountable for misconduct than you would think. The “randomly selected civilian,” on the other hand, is a carefully vetted individual who is intentionally placed on the Board of Rights. There is nothing random or civilian about these picks. It is like an attorney who can stack a jury with friends and the other attorney can’t do anything about it. We would all agree that is fundamentally unfair, so why do we settle for this when it comes to disciplining those who take an oath to “protect and serve?”
So, what does Charter C do? It amends the current makeup of the Board of Rights from two LAPD officers and one “randomly selected civilian,” to three “randomly selected civilians.” This will undoubtedly mean that the Chief’s recommendation to punish an officer for gross misconduct will be overturned far more often – not based on the evidence at the hearing, but based on back channel political allegiances. It allows the police unions to stack the odds in their favor threefold.
What’s the answer? The answer to this question, in my humble opinion, is common sense. Instead of using “randomly selected civilians” or LAPD officers (which by the way is a clear conflict of interest), why don’t we use retired judges to comprise the Board of Rights panel? We trust them to handle complex criminal and civil cases, why not police misconduct? The subject matter is certainly within their expertise, as officer misconduct is routinely an issue in criminal and certain civil cases. Many retired judges continue to work in the legal field in some capacity or another anyways. Some come back as temporary judges, others become arbitrators and mediators, and others become law professors. These judges have well known and transparent records, and are racially, culturally, and economically diverse. Some were prosecutors, some defense attorneys, and some civil litigators. Most importantly, their character is usually out of reach from the political tentacles of special interests and City Hall.
If the content of this editorial is true, and anyone is welcomed to do independent research on the issue, the next, and perhaps more pressing logical questions begging to be asked:
Why do we settle for politicians who support and champion these downright deceptive measures at the cost of the people?
Why do they get a pass?
Kevin (Arie) Gres is a former Los Angeles prosecutor turned criminal defense attorney. He owns and operates his own criminal defense practice, serves on the Project Tikvah Advisory Board, and recently completed a four-year term as Vice President of the South Robertson Neighborhoods Council