LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Two members of the City Council introduced a motion Friday seeking to reform the process by which Los Angeles Police Department officers are disciplined, including allowing the police chief to fire officers immediately in egregious cases.
Currently, the police chief doesn't have the power to directly fire officers. Instead, the chief's recommendation is subject to a review by a three- member Board of Rights panel that is made up of either all-civilians or one civilian and two captains. The officer facing discipline can choose either option, and the chief cannot impose a punishment that exceeds the board's recommendation.
The motion by Council members Tim McOsker and Hugo Soto-Martinez seeks to eliminate the all-civilian option through a repeal of Measure C, which voters passed in 2017 that allows for an all-civilian panel. That model has consistently resulted in decisions that favor the officer facing discipline, according to a review by the Office of the Inspector General. The report found that in cases where the police chief recommends a termination, it has "become common for the chief's recommendation to be rejected" by the all-civilian panel.
Between 2019 and 2021, over two-thirds of reviews by the Board of Rights either reduced the recommended punishment or waived any punishment, according the report. Less than a third of reviews concurred with the chief. Traditional panels agreed with the chief half the time during that period, while all-civilian panels reduced the penalty or declined to assess any penalty at all 77% of time.
Officers are increasingly choosing the all-civilian route, with the percentage of all-civilian panels handling disciplinary matters increasing from 62% in 2019 to 91% in 2021.
"I think everyone understands that in egregious cases, the Chief of Police should be able to fire an officer," McOsker said at a briefing on Friday at City Hall after introducing the motion.
Unless the termination process is changed, the board could still reverse the chief's decision to fire officers. But Soto-Martinez described it as "due process," similar to private sector employees working under a union, who can appeal their terminations.
McOsker, who served as a lawyer for the Los Angeles Police Protective League when it advocated for Measure C, said that the motion was a "continuation of the same goal" he had at the time of increasing accountability, but now the "data tells us that it was not an effective reform."
The measure gives the City Council the power to repeal it after two years, meaning it can adopt an ordinance now that would remove the all-civilian option. The motion calls for the council to request the city attorney prepare such an ordinance.
Another part of the motion calls for a report on having attorneys present the city's case for disciplining officers. Currently, "department advocates" argue the case for discipline, which the report said puts them at a disadvantage to the officer, who has attorneys present.
"I think it's very important that we have a professional, well- presented case to the Board of Rights, because the defense is also provided by lawyers," McOsker said.
The motion also calls for reports from various city departments in 90 days with recommendations on implementing alternative models for the Board of Rights that include a modified composition of civilian and sworn personnel serving on the board and incorporating binding arbitration into the discipline process, along with authorizing the chief to fire officers in severe cases. A second request for an ordinance would seek to diversify the candidates for civilian hearing examiners.
"We are hearing the calls of the public, when they see these videos," Soto-Martinez said. "They see what's happening out on the streets, and yet, nothing can be done to that police officer short of very extreme cases."
Following the police killing of Tyre Nichols in Memphis earlier this year, Police Chief Moore was asked by Police Commissioner Maria Lou Calanche at the Jan. 31 Board of Police Commissioners meeting about the difference between Moore's authority and the ability of Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn "CJ" Davis to quickly fire the officers charged in Nichols' death. Moore said that he could suspend officers pending investigation, but the ultimate power was up to the Board of Rights.
"I just think it's a safeguard for us to have that ability," Calanche said. "And I know that there's limits to our ability to fire officers in such an occasion."
McOsker and Soto-Martinez's motion cites the deaths of multiple Angelenos following encounters with LAPD in the first days of 2023 as a need to renew the "decades-old demand for accountability from law enforcement in our city."
Moore said in a statement on the motion that he would "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."
The effort has the backing of Mayor Karen Bass and Council President Paul Krekorian, who seconded the motion.
One of Bass' specific goals for Moore after she supported his request for a second term last month was to work with the city council to reform or remove the all-civilian Board of Rights option.
"As currently constituted, the All Civilian Option has reduced accountability for officer misconduct," Bass wrote in a letter to Board of Commissioners President William J. Briggs II.
Bass' predecessor, Eric Garcetti, had supported the passage of Measure C.
Krekorian said during the briefing that the Board of Rights system has "too often produced results that don't ensure the kind of accountability that we all want to see happen."
McOsker and Soto-Martinez co-presented the motion despite having varying backgrounds on policing. McOsker was a lobbyist for the LAPPL, while Soto-Martinez has called for reallocating funding from the police department and, since joining the council, has voted against items funding LAPD.
McOsker said the duo is "working together to make sure we're responsive to the needs of the department, the needs of our constituents, the needs of our city -- to make sure that we have transparency, responsiveness and accountability within our police department and better public safety services."