A review of the controversial policy allowing Los Angeles Police Department officers accused of misconduct to appeal to all-civilian disciplinary panels has found that they are more likely to go easy on cops than traditional panels consisting of two officers and one civilian, the Los Angeles Times reports.
The study, led by LAPD Inspector General Mark Smith, looked at 26 civilian Board of Rights hearings and 21 traditional panels from June 2019 through last December, finding that in 77 percent of cases where Chief Michel Moore had recommended an officer be fired, civilian panels handed down a more lenient punishment. In 11 instances, cops who would have been terminated remained on the force. The civilian panels never issued a stronger decision than the police chief.
Such outcomes are what opponents of the policy had feared when it was first adopted by the City Council in 2019, after voters approved the measure in 2017. At the time, only about 200 of the nation’s 18,000 police forces had civilian review boards, and in many of those cities, residents complained that rather than exercising independent judgment, those boards were easily swayed by the cops they were expected to oversee.
In the wake of the Rodney King riots, in 1992 one civilian was added to the formerly all-officer discipline panels. When it was proposed that accused cops could opt for an exclusively civilian three-member panel, it was backed by the Police Protective League and Mayor Eric Garcetti, with activists raising red flags.
“I’m not surprised City Council adopted these suggestions,” Melanie Ochoa, director of police practices at the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, told the Times in 2019. “It was clearly outcome driven. They wanted to satisfy the police-union special interests.”
The PPL’s board of directors countered in a statement, saying that officers “want a fair and impartial panel to hear discipline cases…Civilians oversee the operations of the Police Department, so we believe it’s appropriate for them to also have a role in ensuring fair discipline.”
Under previous rules, civilian Board of Rights members—who are paid by the city—were required to have seven years of experience in the areas of arbitration, mediation or similar work. With the new system, applicants are selected and interviewed by two members of the civilian Police Commission, and need only two years of experience in human resources, personnel or labor relations, or another position that administers or adjudicates employee discipline. Additionally, they cannot have a criminal record or have sustained allegations of job-related misconduct.
If selected, they must complete an eight-hour training course in rules of evidence and other legal procedures.
In his report to the Police Commission Tuesday, Inspector General Smith said that while the reduced number of cases heard due to the pandemic left him “wary of drawing some really substantial or well-formed conclusions,” it still showed “notable trends.”
Smith’s office is currently working on a more in-depth review of the Board of Rights which was ordered when the new system went into effect. It’s expected later this year.