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Plan to overhaul LAPD officer discipline system faces last-minute collapse at City Council

Libor Jany, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES — With a deadline for submitting ballot measures looming, the Los Angeles City Council remains divided over the language for a proposal that could give the chief of police the power to fire officers outright for serious misconduct, among other reforms.

Some city officials support a plan that would give the chief authority to terminate an officer for sexual misconduct, fraud, excessive force, abuse on duty, and other violations covered by a state law, SB 2, which strips officers of their badge for such conduct.

Other officials worry that limiting fireable offenses will undermine a chief's ability to get rid of officers who have violated public trust in other ways, but whose cases don't fall under the decertification law. In either scenario, officers would be allowed to appeal their terminations, just like many other public employees.

The debate threatens to derail at the eleventh hour a long-running effort to overhaul the system used to rid the LAPD of bad cops, which has come under strong criticism in recent years as officers shown to be guilty of serious offenses retained their jobs.

The council proposal, which would require voter approval on the November ballot, would do away with the option for officers to have their disciplinary panels heard by only civilians, who tend to be more lenient in meting out punishments.

The full council is expected to vote on the issue on Tuesday.

The original proposal was introduced last year, and some city and police officials expressed frustration with a prolonged process that has left decision-makers scrambling to finalize the proposed changes.

Councilmember Hugo Soto-Martinez has questioned the use of binding arbitration for officers who appeal their terminations or suspensions, pointing to studies and testimony from city and police leaders nationwide that show the outcomes usually favor the accused employees.

He said unless the council can reach a consensus on Tuesday, he would rather wait until next year to give city officials enough time to iron out the ballot language.

"The current proposal would gut the most important part of this reform and would lead to even more opportunities for officers who have committed egregious misconduct to evade accountability," he said in response to questions from The Times. "These last-minute changes have council members, city staff, and even our own attorneys confused. It would be irresponsible to move forward without a full vetting of what we're putting in front of voters."

He continued: "Our office introduced a plan to reform police discipline over 16 months ago. Time and again, we see the city wait on its hands and do nothing for months just to push through last-minute changes without transparency or public input. It's exactly why so many people don't trust our government."

 

Soto-Martinez, a former labor organizer, forged an unlikely alliance last year with council colleague and former police union attorney Tim McOsker, calling to scale back the involvement of civilians.

But there have been recent signs of friction.

A heated debate broke out at Friday's meeting of the c ouncil's rules committee, during which McCosker and representatives from the LAPD and city attorney's office argued over whether the draft language truly reflected the council's intention.

McCosker, who favors using the SB 2 standard, said a chief could still recommend the firing for other offenses, but would have to go through the board of rights process.

"I take deep offense to the city attorney, for whatever reason, changing the intent of my motion and dropping language on me last night. I am beyond offended that the city attorney is allowed here to change the substance of my motion and to put words into my mouth," he said, "And then use the argument that it's going to be difficult for them to defend. I'm sorry. it's going to be difficult to defend. You need another 300 lawyers?"

Critics say the current discipline system lacks transparency and has seriously undermined accountability efforts.

The council's tentative plan, which would require approval from Los Angeles voters in November, focuses on all-civilian disciplinary panels, which review the cases of officers accused of misconduct and decide whether they should be fired or face punishment.

"The bottom line is police accountability and transparency and holding officers to a higher standard and that's the main goal here," deputy chief Michael Rimkunas of the professional standards bureau said in an interview.

Rimkunas and other senior department officials have spoken out about several provisions in the most recent council proposal.

The proposal would effectively reverse a 2017 charter amendment that gave officers the option of having their disciplinary cases heard by only civilians. Controversially, it would also move to an arbitration process that opponents say is also weighted in favor of the accused officers.


©2024 Los Angeles Times. Visit at latimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

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