The union that represents most LAPD officers pushed back this week against Chief Michel Moore's statements that he'd like direct authority to fire officers accused of serious misconduct, saying the current police disciplinary system, while complicated and largely invisible to the public, is fair and prevents abuses of power.
"I think the Chief's motivations are this political pandering," said Jerretta Sandoz, vice president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League and an LAPD sergeant.
"There's a wave of people, legislators, city leaders, that want to defund the police department, that feel that officers are running around, violating peoples' rights on a daily basis, and that's absolutely not true," she told NBC4's I-Team.
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Moore said he was frustrated that the public perceives him as having ultimate authority to discipline or terminate an officer. But the chief can only recommend the most serious punishment to an administrative trial board, which has the final say.
"People hold the Chief of Police accountable and yet I don't have the authority," Moore said last week. "So I think it's an opportunity for reform."
Changing those rules would require a change to the city's charter, which set up the LAPD's administrative trials for officers, called Boards of Rights, where a three-person panel weighs evidence and decides on punishment, up to termination.
A board can reduce the recommendation of the chief but cannot make penalties more severe. Officers can appeal a board decision through a legal challenge in Superior Court.
Moore said he sent 26 officers to Boards of Rights last year with recommendations that they be terminated, but in nine cases, even after the board found the officer guilty of misconduct, it reduced the penalty and allowed the officers to keep their jobs.
"I have no ability to do anything else to that officer but to allow him or her to remain with the workforce," Moore said last week.
The identities of the officers and the circumstances of those misconduct cases are not public. Moore said those officers now have to be restricted to assignments that have limited interaction with the public and little chance of leading to courtroom testimony.
Boards of Rights are often multi-day trial-like hearings in which the panel members listen to witnesses, consider evidence, and sometimes hear from an accused officer directly. Almost all of the proceedings are kept confidential and the names of the accused officers are rarely made public, although an officer can request that his or her hearing is open to the public.
"A Board of Rights is not a softball way of dealing with police officers," said David Winslow, an attorney who often represents officers facing administrative proceedings. "Many officers get fired by the Board."
Winslow said he believes the boards with only citizen hearing officers, rather than with two commanders, are more fair because none of their jobs depend on the opinion of the police chief.
"They want to do what's right for the public and do what's fair to the public," Winslow said. "When there are command staff on the board you have to remember they're under the authority of the Chief of Police."
He said the cases presented and scrutinized during a Board hearing are far more detailed and nuanced than the summaries presented to the chief of a large department like LAPD, and said that's another control that keeps the system fair for all.
"A chief's briefing, versus sitting through a lengthy Board of Rights, I don't think you would have thought they were throwing in the towel for the officer, they were basing their decisions on what was right and just," Winslow said.
Former Los Angeles City Councilman Jack Weiss said if it were up to him he'd give the police chief maximum power to hire and fire officers, but said the integrity of the discipline system was undermined by the charter change that the union supported, to allow Boards of three citizens, rather than of two police commanders and one citizen.
"Eric Garcetti and the police union a few years ago used political muscle to make that very difficult," Weiss said, explaining that data has shown the citizens who sit on the boards more often side with officers or reduce penalties than the police commanders appointed to the boards.
Demands for greater police accountability have been a key focus of the many demonstrations in LA that followed the killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis. The LAPD said it received more than 70 complaints that alleged officers used excessive force against protesters during some of those events, but the findings of those internal investigations and any punishment is likely months away.
"Bill Bratton fired or demoted senior leaders of the LAPD within days of the MacArthur Park police riot in 2007 - to demonstrate that accountability begins at the command level," Weiss said.
"Police accountability demands both command staff being held accountable as well as rank and file officers being disciplined," he said. "Mike has not come anywhere close after the George Floyd protest to what Bill did after the MacArthur Park events."