Los Angeles police officers facing disciplinary hearings will have a choice of appearing before an all-civilian review board or a panel that includes two command-level officers, thanks to voters' approval of a ballot measure condemned by critics as a weakening of the LAPD's disciplinary system.
"The passage of Charter Amendment C will increase civilian oversight of the LAPD," Mayor Eric Garcetti said.
Measure C was placed on Tuesday's ballot by the Los Angeles City Council and received support from Garcetti, Council President Herb Wesson and the police union, the Los Angeles Police Protective League.
The LAPPL argued the current system is unfair because of the belief that the police chief has undue influence on sworn members of board of rights panels.
"We're thrilled that the voters have agreed with us," said Dustin DeRollo, a spokesman for the LAPPL. "Civilians are objective and use just the facts and evidence in front of them. They're outside the political process. They're outside political pressure and that's what's important in determining police discipline."
Under the just-passed measure, an officer facing disciplinary action will be able to choose whether the case will be reviewed by an all-civilian panel or a traditional board with two sworn officers and one civilian.
A host of community organizations spoke out against Measure C, saying it was an effort by the LAPPL to weaken the department's disciplinary process.
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They also argued that it was crafted without any significant community input.
"We are disappointed by the incredible setback that the passage of Measure C represents for accountability and justice for victims of police misconduct," said Karren Lane, vice president of policy at the Community Coalition. "Trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve is grounded in a disciplinary review process that people believe will be fair and transparent," Lane said. "Measure C creates an inconsistent disciplinary process that protects cops found guilty of serious acts of misconduct and reverses decades of work to reform LAPD."
The council placed the measure on the ballot 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.
With an increased focus nationwide on police shootings, civil rights leaders have been calling for tougher discipline of officers accused of wrongdoing, and with civilians shown to be more lenient on officers, some civil rights leaders in Los Angeles came out against the measure.
Despite the report, Wesson expressed faith in civilian panels and said he wanted to see the makeup of the panels change. Many civilian examiners have a legal background, but Wesson expressed 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 in January.
The Los Angeles Times Editorial Board opposed the measure, writing that "there is precious little evidence that there is anything wrong with the current discipline process, other than that officers and their union don't like it."