The Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations released a report Monday recommending changes to policing in Los Angeles County, calling for an end to qualified immunity, reallocation of funding to community initiatives and assigning use-of-force investigations to special prosecutors outside the DA's office.
"Redefining Policing with Our Community" offered 34 recommendations the commission says seek to "build a new normal that prioritizes human dignity and repairs the damage done by discriminatory policies and practices."
Launched as a part of a 2015 project to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1965 Watts Rebellion, the report takes into account feedback from seven public hearings and multiple other meetings with residents and advocates, including women of color, members of the LGBTQ+ community and more than 50 community-based organizations, including representatives from Black Lives Matter. The Human Relations Commission also convened meetings with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, the Los Angeles Police Department and other city-based police departments throughout the county.
"To assess policing in L.A. County 50 years after the Watts Rebellion was an ambitious undertaking," stated Commissioner Isabelle Gunning, chair of the commission's Committee on Policing and Human Relations. "Through this report, our hope is to bring about systemic and cultural changes in policing that will honor George Floyd and the many others whose lives have been lost or damaged."
The nine key strategies underlying the recommendations include increasing transparency and accountability, revising use-of-force policies, ending overpolicing and underprotection of vulnerable communities and enhancing community-based alternatives to law enforcement.
Some of the recommendations include:
-- changing federal and state laws and local policies to end qualified immunity and provide public access to information about police officers involved in complaint and misconduct investigations, including their prior history;
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-- significantly increasing funding, including at the expense of law enforcement budgets, for community-based initiatives such as sobering centers, youth development programs and community response teams; -- assigning use-of-force investigations to independent special prosecutors housed outside of law enforcement agencies and the district attorney's office; and
-- requiring deeper analysis and more frequent dissemination of data collected through the Racial and Identity Profiling Act (RIPA) to eliminate anti-Black racism, bias and discrimination.
Members of the Board of Supervisors indicated their support for "many of the recommendations" in the report and promised action.
"It is unconscionable that our communities of color are treated differently on account of race and ethnicity, and this plays out every day in their interactions with our criminal justice system. We need to push for true police accountability and denounce police brutality and harassment,"
Supervisor Hilda L. Solis said. "Our black and brown families should not live in fear of being racially profiled when they go out for a walk or a jog in our neighborhoods. We must take bold action to redefine public safety and ensure that the criminal justice system works for all of us, regardless of race."
Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said the findings presented a chance for meaningful change.
"Recent events have provoked a conversation about how we expand alternatives to law enforcement and how we continue along the continuum of reimagining public safety," Ridley-Thomas said. "Many of the recommendations laid out in this report are yet another opportunity for the county to invest in change that is systematic, lasting, and that gets to the root of the issue rather than skimming the surface."
Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said the recommendations mirror some of those presented to the board in a March report on alternatives to incarceration that received the board's unanimous approval.
"This report is one more call to action at a critical moment in the county's rethinking of our justice system," Kuehl said. "Many of the recommendations echo guidance offered to the supervisors in the Alternatives to Incarceration `Care First, Jail Last' report (this) March. What we need to do to improve community health and safety is clear. Now it's time to move forward quickly to implement these reforms."
Supervisor Janice Hahn has authored two relevant motions for Tuesday's board meeting.
The first calls on the Department of Mental Health to look into setting up a new emergency number that residents could call to request help from health and human services workers rather than the police. As an alternative, the motion suggests finding a way to triage 911 calls to direct some pleas for assistance away from law enforcement.
"While there are instances when law enforcement officers are the most appropriate response to a call for help, there are also many scenarios when they are not," Hahn's motion states. "For example, calls for health and human services crises related to mental health, substance abuse, physical health or homelessness would be better served in most cases by a non-law enforcement response team with appropriate training and expertise."
Hahn's second motion, co-authored by Solis, asks county CEO Sachi Hamai to work with area law enforcement agencies, including the Sheriff's Department, to see if state funding under AB 109 could be reallocated to fund more diversion, substance abuse, mental health and housing programs, rather than to pay for custody operations.
The county is expected to receive $358.3 million in unrestricted AB 109 funding in the current fiscal year, short of original estimates, but more than may be necessary given a smaller jail population.
"It is time to relook at the way the county spends AB 109 Community Corrections revenue and think about whether the spending breakdown aligns with the future vision that we have for the county. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the jail population has dramatically decreased to lower than it was before AB 109 was passed," the motion states.
The motion is consistent with the recommendations of the earlier Alternatives to Incarceration report. However, it comes at a time when protesters are calling to defund police departments while unions are pushing back hard against reallocations. Mayor Eric Garcetti's announcement that he might cut the Los Angeles Police Department budget by as much as $150 million to fund community programs was met by the union's suggestion that the mayor was pandering to protesters.
With regard to the commission's report, which offers another set of solutions, civil rights attorney Connie Rice, who served on President Barack Obama's Taskforce on 21st Century Policing said change is desperately needed.
"This report provides an important perspective emerging from the commission's extensive engagement with community and law enforcement," Rice said. "It calls for changes that can move us forward on the urgent transformation in the culture and mission of policing that we so desperately need."
The full report, along with hearing transcripts and other supplemental materials can be found here.