Five before Midnight

This site is dedicated to the continuous oversight of the Riverside(CA)Police Department, which was formerly overseen by the state attorney general. This blog will hopefully play that role being free of City Hall's micromanagement.
"The horror of that moment," the King went on, "I shall never, never forget." "You will though," the Queen said, "if you don't make a memorandum of it." --Lewis Carroll


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Location: RiverCity, Inland Empire

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Civilian oversight here and there

The drama surrounding the shooting of Black teenager, Devin Brown, by a Los Angeles Police Department officer continues, in the aftermath of the LAPD Board of Right's decision to exonerate that officer.

Officer Steven Garcia agreed to release transcripts of the board of rights hearing to the public, because "he recognizes the interests of the public in understanding the reasons" behind the panel's decision to exonerate him in the Brown shooting, according to the Los Angeles Times. The transcripts are posted on the LAPD's police protective league Web site.

LAPD officer cleared in shooting releases transcripts

This latest development is ironic, considering that his case had been heard behind closed doors, after Los Angeles's city attorney, Rocky Delgadillo recommended that all board of rights hearings should be private after the release of the state supreme court's decision on the Copley case last year.

Garcia's decision to release the transcripts in his case made one point very clear. On some level, he or his supporters recognized that because his hearing had been held away from public scrutiny, that there was doubt in the eyes of the public about the integrity of the board's decision to exonerate him. By doing this, he is probably one of the few law enforcement officers around who is beginning to recognize that closing off the process from the public is causing the erosion of the public's trust in him, the other LAPD's police officers and the processes that are used to investigate them for alleged misconduct. Of course, if the board of rights hadn't exonerated him(as if that ever happens), he probably would have maintained the blue wall of silence.

Discussion of the board of right's decision by mostly LAPD officers is taking place at the LAPD blog here. Given how stacked the board of rights hearings are in their favor, it's kind of like waving pom poms at a professional baseball team squaring off againt a little league squad.

The city had already paid Brown's family a $1.5 million dollar settlement according to this Los Angeles Times article. Apparently, the city's attorney had advised the city council not to wait for the exoneration to be delivered by the police department involving its own employee, which is very interesting and shows that even the city doesn't believe a department's own self-investigating carries much weight during the litigative process in civil court especially if the case was heard by a jury.

Other Times opinion articles discussed this issue as well. Duke University professor Erwin Chemerinsky expresses his views here including his interpretation of the city's decision to settle with Brown's family.


Such secrecy undermines the accountability of the LAPD. Without being able to observe disciplinary hearings or know the reasons for the panel's conclusions, there is no way to evaluate whether the disciplinary system is working. Closed proceedings and secret decisions fuel the impression that the board of rights protects officers from warranted discipline and does not serve the interests of the city.

Officers who use deadly force do not have a privacy interest in being free from scrutiny. This is not information about an officer's personal life. This is about how a public employee is performing on the job in the exercise of an enormously important responsibility: the use of deadly force.

The public debate on the role of L.A.'s police commission and whether or not the board of rights process will be reopened to scrutiny continues, with several elected officials including a former LAPD chief of all people taking the lead.

Good for them, given the silence of their counterparts further east. While L.A. is hardly perfect, it is refreshing to see elected officials stand up for a process that is supported by a majority of voters, rather than doing what Riverside city officials are doing right now which is caving into the whims of a minority by its latest attempts through the city manager's office to dismantle the Community Police Review Commission during an election year.


Meanwhile Friday, City Council members Jan Perry and Bernard C. Parks called for the Police Commission and the LAPD to make a presentation to the council on why the Board of Rights overturned the commission ruling on Garcia.

"This finding raises justifiable concerns at all levels of our community," Perry said.

She also said she wanted the hearing to include a discussion of whether police disciplinary boards should be closed to the public, as was the case in the Garcia matter.The Police Commission has scheduled a hearing for Tuesday to discuss whether Board of Rights hearings should be opened in ways that make the disciplinary process more transparent.

"Our problem is: Right now, based on the legal advice we have received, we have a legal noose around our necks," commission President John Mack said, referring to City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo's recommendation that LAPD disciplinary boards be closed.

The Los Angeles Times editorial board on Jan. 12 condemned the secrecy surrounding the board of rights process and the LAPD's operation in general. It proposed changing the city's charter and state laws if necessary to restore public confidence in the LAPD that it had lost even with the implementation of a federal consent decree. The Press Enterprise's editorial board has been silent on what's been happening out here.

The Blue Fog


Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa also supports new efforts to restore openness, as do members of the Police Commission. So if everyone wants it, why don't we have it? Romero should move forward with her legislation, but that's not enough. Bratton suggested that the Police Commission, already nominally in charge of the LAPD, could be further empowered to assure more openness in disciplinary proceedings.

It's a good idea. Changing the City Charter is time-consuming and cumbersome. But if that's what it takes to reverse the LAPD's slide back into secrecy, it's worth it.

How interesting it would have been if Riverside's city council had asked the police department to appear at one of its meetings to give a presentation on why it had overturned the sustained finding reached by the CPRC in the Summer Lane shooting case. City Manager Brad Hudson could have been asked to do the presentation himself but he had apparently opted out of the decision making process and may not even know what to say on the issue, even with Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis in the room. His only public comments on the issue took place at a public safety subcommittee meeting last year and through those, he layed out the preview of what would and has indeed followed.

However, the city council didn't even know how to respond in this situation even though most of them grumbled about it in private. Even those who ran on campaigns voicing support of the CPRC have remained silent on the latest developments.

The two L.A. city officials mentioned above are but a slim minority of the 15-seat city council in Los Angeles, but they didn't let that discourage them. Hopefully, the other city council members will see the wisdom of Parks and Perry and agree to schedule this item on its agenda at a future meeting. Sometimes, it's not a bad thing when a former police chief gets bounced out by another candidate for the job by the city and then wins a city council seat. At any rate, they at least are asking the same questions that should be asked by elected officials in Riverside.



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