LOS ANGELES — The City Council took the final step Jan. 24 toward placing a measure on the May election ballot that would create an all-civilian review board for police disciplinary hearings.
The deadline for the council to place any measure on the ballot was Jan. 25, and the council’s 14-0 vote ensures it will go before voters this spring.
City Council President Herb Wesson, who has led the council’s push for the measure, said before the vote that he saw merit in the views of both those in favor and opposed to it.
“I don’t know if there is a right answer or a wrong answer,” he said.
The purpose of the ballot measure, and the series of related public hearings he has promised over the next few months, is to have a conversation about race, the police and the community, Wesson said.
“In the past couple of weeks I have seen in the newspapers and on the blogs, and in meetings that I have had, more conversations about the community and the police, more conversations about that relationship, than I have seen in a while,” Wesson said. “And that’s a good thing.”
The council had a choice between two options — one that would create the all-civilian panel option for all disciplinary matters, or a second one that would only create the option for officers facing suspension of 22 days or less — and chose the first option.
The ballot measure will state that officers would be able to choose the civilian panel or one under the current system, which provides a panel of two command-level officers and one civilian to sit on the “board of rights” panels.
The council continued to move forward with the measure even in the face of a staff report that found civilians serving on board of rights panels have consistently voted for lighter penalties compared to officers on the panels.
Wesson continued to express faith in a civilian panel. Many civilian examiners have a legal background, but Wesson again said he had a desire for the panels to be made up of regular citizens.
“If statistics and numbers would indicate that there is a certain degree of leniency when people, civilians, citizens are involved, then we need to change the way that we select the citizens,” Wesson said.
The Rev. Oliver Buie of Holman United Methodist Church voiced opposition to the measure.
“You have heard the outcry of the public. And I believe that before we take any steps further on such an important matter that we should bring both sides together, and that we must be as transparent as possible as we move forward,” Buie told the council. “It cannot just be an ordinance that is driven by one side.”
The Los Angeles Times Editorial Board also came out against the measure, in part because the council is placing it on the ballot while it is also asking for a series of reports and hearings on the issue between now and the May vote.
“Moving forward with a ballot measure before any of those reports and meetings, however, is a bad idea,” the Editorial Board wrote.
Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck has said he is opposed to an all-civilian board of rights panel, although he supports civilian involvement. A civilian panel has the support of the police union, which contends the chief has undue influence on sworn members of the board of rights panels.
The council also approved the creation of an ad hoc committee on the civilian panels, with one purpose being to review the criteria and selection process for civilian hearing examiners.
The council additionally voted for staff to prepare a report that includes a plan to conduct community hearings on the proposed civilian panels, a review of all civilian examiners, and an examination of liability claims and payouts related to the LAPD.