LOS ANGELES – The passage of Charter Amendment C yesterday was a victory for the police union and the power of money to sway a campaign, and a loss for police accountability and for the people of Los Angeles, who face weakened police discipline and greater payouts for lawsuits as the result of unchecked police misconduct.
Charter Amendment C allows the city council to pass an ordinance that would allow officers whom the department has found engaged in serious misconduct to choose to appeal to a Board of Rights made up of three civilians, rather than the two command-level officers and one civilian used in the current system. The city’s own data and reports show that Board of Rights panels already reject the chief of police’s recommendation to fire officers more than half the time, and that civilians currently in the panel are consistently more lenient on officers than the sworn officers. However, the charter amendment does not immediately affect LAPD’s disciplinary process. It still requires L.A. City Council to pass an ordinance to actually make the change.
“Mayor Eric Garcetti, Council President Herb Wesson and members of the city council all endorsed this deceptive measure. They helped win its passage by misleading voters, and no doubt earned the favor of the police union, but at the cost of weakening discipline and accountability at LAPD,” said Peter Bibring, director of police practices and senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Southern California. “If they want to retain any credibility that they have L.A.’s interests at heart, they must not simply pass the ordinance the union wants. They must take a comprehensive look at LAPD’s discipline system and make changes that will help build trust both among officers and the community.”
The election results validated concerns raised by opponents and the media that the measure was deceptively worded and advertised to suggest that it increased oversight of police, when it would result in more leniency, and that it benefited from being placed on the ballot at the last minute, so that an opposition campaign did not organize until the final weeks before the election. While vote-by-mail ballots that were returned before media coverage or a significant opposition campaign went 2-to-1, the voters who went to the polls on election day voted against the measure 55% to 45%. The media also reported that voters emerging from polls who voted for the measure said they believed it would be stricter on police.
“As we walked neighborhoods, made phone calls and talked with folks about Charter Amendment C, we received virtually unanimous and enthusiastic support for our #NoOnC position,” said Melina Abdullah, organizer with Black Lives Matter Los Angeles. “We believe that the majority of people who voted for the measure fell victim to the deceptive language and a campaign that cast it as 'civilian oversight' when it is nothing of the sort. Most voters who voted by mail were duped by the police union and politicians who prioritize their political alliances and ambitions ahead of community safety and police accountability and didn't have a chance to hear the no position held by virtually every progressive organization in the city."
The police union outspent the grassroots and nonprofit organizations by 50-to-1, pouring more than $1.25 million into their campaign to promote the charter amendment with advertisements that claimed it would increase civilian oversight. But the Boards of Rights can only reduce discipline recommended by the LAPD. They cannot increase punishment if the department has given a slap on the wrist for more serious misconduct, or hold the department accountable when it fails to police itself.
But a coalition of more than 80 community organizations and leaders – including the ACLU SoCal, Black Lives Matter Los Angeles, Community Coalition, East Area Progressive Democrats, League of Women Voters, Los Angeles Community Action Network and United Teachers Los Angeles – will not let this go unanswered.
Pete White, executive director of Los Angeles Community Action Network, said: “Angelenos will not soon forget how their elected representatives sold our safety to the highest bidder – in this case the Los Angeles Police Protective League. Angelenos are ready to move forward and secure real reform and accountability. Our next step is to build the power necessary to amend the charter and hold the entire system accountable.”
The coalition will continue to fight against officers’ ability to challenge their discipline for serious misconduct to a Board of Rights made up of civilians strategically selected to grant them leniency.
“We refuse to let the police union and police commission distort the meaning of civilian and stack the deck in favor of bad officers,” said Karren Lane, vice president of Community Coalition. "We call for a comprehensive re-examination of LAPD’s discipline process, including purging the existing pool of civilian Board of Rights examiners, establishing new criteria that ensure the diverse experiences of Angelenos can be represented and conducting an open selection process."