CPCC Authority Gutted by Proposed Charter Amendment 


By: 
Stephen Downing

Between May 2021 and February 2022 an independent evaluation of the Citizen Police Complaint Commission (CPCC) was conducted by Polis Solutions & Change-Integration Consulting (POLIS) as part of the Racial Equity and Reconciliation initiative approved by the City Council.

On Feb.15 the City Council received the POLIS Final Report along with a PowerPoint presentation outlining the consultants evaluation and recommendations.

In that Feb.15 meeting the council directed city staff and the city attorney to “begin the process for a city Charter Amendment and to initiate the meet and confer process with relevant employee labor organizations.”

The process for a city Charter Amendment requires the mayor to convene a Charter Amendment Committee to begin discussions for placing a Charter Amendment before the voters.

However, the mayor did not convene a Charter Amendment Committee that could have conducted public hearings to evaluate the text of the POLIS recommendations, receive public comment and propose changes.

It wasn’t until three months later, on May 20, that anything was done to “begin the process.”

City Manager Tom Modica sent a memo to the city clerk requesting an agenda item be added to the agenda for the council’s May 24 meeting.

The request, with (digital) signed authorizations from Councilmembers Cindy Allen, Al Austin and Suely Saro stated:

“Request the mayor to convene the Charter Amendment Committee of the City Council within 30 days to discuss placing a city Charter Amendment before the voters to amend and restate Article XIA of the City Charter to establish a Police Oversight Commission and add a Director of Police Oversight position (Citywide).

The attachment provided to the City Clerk for posting along with the agenda item included – for the first time – the proposed text for the Charter Amendment to be presented to council and the public.

Experts Evaluate Proposed Amendment

After reading the proposed amendment to change the authority of the CPCC and add a Director of Police Oversight, this writer asked eight experts to review the draft and provide comment and analysis within the four-day period prior to the scheduled meeting, which became known as the “Joint meeting of the Charter Amendment Committee and City Council.”

The cumulative input received from the eight experts was consolidated into an email – along with this writer’s professional assessment – and sent to the city Clerk on the morning of June 14 for inclusion in the agenda packet for consideration by each council member during their deliberations that evening.

The June 14 “joint session” was the first of three meetings required by council to receive public input, make changes and vote on a final draft within 88 days prior to the Nov. 8 general election.

The second session is scheduled for July 19 and the final session is scheduled for Aug. 9, 3 days prior to the legally required deadline.

Subpoena Authority Expunged

The consensus among the eight experts is that – as currently written – the Citizen Oversight Commission (CPCC) is completely neutered and the proposed amendment strengthens nothing, including greater transparency – which was identified as a major goal of the Racial Equity and Reconciliation initiative.

The most alarming change to CPCC authority – including that of the new Director of Police Oversight – is that existing subpoena powers have been expunged along with the commission’s authority to swear witnesses and hold investigative hearings.

Civil rights attorney Tom Beck said, “If the new director is going to have the power to investigate officer-involved shootings and other major use of force events, that office is going to have to rely on the testimony and cooperation of medical personnel, civilian witnesses, the county medical examiner and the like to insure the department's investigation is through, searching, objective and trustworthy.”

Beck said, “If they choose not to cooperate, there needs to be an enforcement mechanism where a court would order the witness to attend or produce documents. Without this authority the CPCC and its new Director of Police Oversight will be completely ineffective.”

Highlights of the five-page email sent for consideration by the “Joint Committee” included multiple observations related to the director’s authority to investigate suggesting that the position should not be restricted by what the city manager wants investigated.

The consensus email said: “The oversight function appears to be transferred to city management and turns the citizen commissioners into nothing more than PR pawns and public educators for City Hall.”

A majority of the evaluators referenced the function and authority of the Los Angeles City Inspector General along with the authority of that city’s Board of Police Commissioners as being a better model for Long Beach, whose Charter was established when the city population was less than 1,000.

The Los Angeles Inspector General’s website describes the OIG function as follows:

“The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) is an independent entity, established through a voter-approved amendment to the Los Angeles City Charter in 1995, charged with providing civilian oversight of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). The OIG supports the Board of Police Commissioners (BOPC) – a five-member civilian panel that acts as the head of the department – and the public by providing information and analysis regarding the conduct and performance of the LAPD. The OIG is commonly referred to as the “eyes and ears” of the BOPC.”

Referencing the Inspector General model one of the eight contributors – and Long Beach resident, Ian Patton, executive director, Reform Long Beach wrote in part: “Why doesn't LBPD merit similar high standards? Instead of meeting the LAPD bar for oversight policies and procedures, Long Beach City Hall's "reform” proposal appears to perpetuate the politicization of police oversight, while also making some incremental improvements.”

Another of the experts, Dr. Alex Norman, Professor Emeritus, UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, wrote: “I think Long Beach would be wiser to use the current model that the City of L. A. has in use. There certainly is a great deal of accountability built into that operation.”

Norman added: “Actually, this (the Charter Amendment) looks like a rush job that has more PR value, than substance for developing an accountability system to operate between the police and the public.

“The public must have a voice in creating that commission, but not one as weak and undirected as this one.”

Joseph Gunn, a former Assistant Deputy Mayor overseeing LAPD operations and former executive director of the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners included the following statement in his evaluation:

“The commission should have the authority and the director should work for them and get his authority from them.

“They (the commission) should appoint the director and he should report to them. All of the duties enumerated for the director should come from the commission.”

“If the director is appointed by the council his loyalty is to them. Both the commission and the director should be free of council control other than the council having the power to hire and fire the commission.”

Lou Reiter, a retired police executive, co-director of the Legal and Liability Risk Management Institute and author of the highly respected manual entitled Law Enforcement Administrative Investigations (fourth edition 2019) wrote, in part, of the proposed Charter Amendment: “It is a really toothless attempt at feel good.“

“The two biggest flaws are 1). Director is not given any indication that he or she will have an investigative staff and 2). Both the director and the commission provide no real transparency.’

“Finally, the director is limited to only those use of force cases involving death or serious injury. If he or she is to oversee use of force the director needs to be able to look at all of the use of force reports whether they are done by internal affairs or by field supervisors.”

“There are many other areas that should be of concern like racial profiling, employee domestic misconduct, neglect of duty, theft, sexual misconduct and the myriad of other acts of misconduct alleged against officers.”

“What they (Long Beach) need is an inspector general – who works for a policy board of citizen commissioners with staff large enough to perform true oversight.”

Reconciling Civil Suits

The Long Beach Police Department spends over $12 million per year on settlements and payouts on verdicts related to police misconduct, officer-involved shootings, police use of force and in-custody deaths.

Three of the experts reported what they saw as a glaring omission from the proposed Charter amendment as being the absence of authority for the director to reconcile the failure to investigate officer wrongdoing with a jury verdict when the city has not sustained or otherwise unfounded a civilian complaint related to the misconduct that lead to the lawsuit.

To counter that failure the experts offered that the Charter Amendment should add two authorities to the director function:

  • Attend all settlement conferences between the city attorney and City Council involving lawsuits against police and provide councilmembers insight related to the Internal Affairs misconduct investigation.
  • Reconcile the depositions, testimony and evidence introduced in the lawsuit proceedings with the internal investigation and produce a findings report to the commission, City Council and appropriate city officials.

Protecting our Police Professionals

Police officers who speak up against colleague misconduct often face retaliation. Last year, reporters for USA Today identified 300 examples of officers who had reported misconduct over the last decade and found all of them were eventually forced out of their departments.

The Long Beach Police Department spends over $5 million per year on settlements and payouts on verdicts related to retaliation lawsuits filed against the police department by its own officers.

Examples include the Lobstergate scandal that resulted in a jury verdict of $4.1 million; Retaliation by a LBPD deputy chief against Officer Alex Lawrence – who stood up for established training protocols involving a probationary officer fearful of working in the Black community – and won a jury verdict of $2.5 Million; or the story of Officer Eddie Sanchez who was set up and terminated by a corrupt IAD investigator, later proven innocent, and re-instated in a cover-up conspiracy with the city attorney to protect the POA-supported IAD investigator.

All of these examples support an addition to the Charter Amendment that provides a safe harbor for officers to report internal retaliation by assigning this kind of officer appeal – as well as complaints of racial bias – to the Director of Police Oversight.

The June 14 Meeting

Following a presentation of the three Charter Amendments introduced by city staff, public comment was offered by only two Long Beach residents who spoke to the CPCC amendment: Dana Buchanan, Chair of the CPCC and Senay Kenfe, a Long Beach photographer, musician, writer and community organizer.

Buchanan made the following statement:

“I'm here today as chair of the current CPCC. I've served on that commission for four years. I didn't want to be on the CPCC, but Mayor Garcia had a different idea. When I wanted to be on a (different) commission and he said, no, Dana, you're not going to be on that one. We're going to put you on the CPCC.

“And this is why, and I'm sorry, mayor. I'm paraphrasing, because it was four years ago. You are independent, fair, ethical, open-minded tough and transparent. Those are the qualities that you saw in me.

“I have done everything I can to serve and lead this body with those in mind. And that's exactly how this body should be.

“We owe it to our people that you serve and represent to amend the paper tiger commission we have had for the past 30 years. Two of you have served on the commission. You know what I'm talking about.

“We need to create a body that is neutral, thorough, independent, unbiased and transparent. It has to have teeth to do the job, pushed into the edge of legal parameters for a commission that we can be proud of.

“A strong CPCC will ensure both the LBPD and your constituents are served. We all benefit physically, financially and emotionally from an excellent police department being the best it can be.

“In addition, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the mental health issues, that'd become fully obvious through my four years of service, at least 70 percent of the cases we review involve mental health. This needs to be addressed also.

“Thank you for listening and I just got to say, let's do the right thing for one Long Beach.”

During deliberations by members of the council, Rex Richardson and Suzie Price asked questions of staff and Suely Saro, who also chairs the Public Safety Committee, commented that in the process thus far people have had their voices heard and will again when the measure is placed on the ballot.

No other member of the council spoke or asked questions and none made any recommendations to change any part of the first draft charter amendment presented.

The council voted 9-0 to receive and file the proposed amendment until the next joint session scheduled for July 19.

The full council discussion can be heard here.

A redlined version highlighting the proposed amendments to the existing CPCC Charter – as well as the full recommendations of the Eight Experts – can be read here:    

 

Stephen Downing is a Long Beach resident and a retired LAPD deputy chief of police.

stephen.beachcomber@gmail.com

 

The experts who consulted and contributed to this article include:

  • Tom Barham, LASO lieutenant (ret), and constitutional rights attorney
  • Thomas Beck, civil rights attorney
  • Greg Buhl, head research analyst, CheckLBPD
  • Joseph Gunn, LAPD commander (ret), former assistant Los Angeles deputy mayor overseeing LAPD operations and former executive director for the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners.
  • Alex J. Norman, DSW, professor emeritus, UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs
  • Ian Patton, executive director, Long Beach Reform Coalition
  • Lou Reiter, co-director, Legal and Liability Risk Management Institute.
  • Joseph Rouzan, former LAPD commander, former chief of police, City of Compton, former city manager, City of Compton and former chief of police for the City of Inglewood.

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Comments

The CPCC was a farce from birth. It was a farce when the late Tomas Gonzalez blew the whistle on them nearly 20 years ago. It was a farce when former CPCC Commissioner Gilbert Porter declared so during the George Floyd protests two years ago. It was a farce when the city’s consultant Polis Solutions interviewed a few of us stakeholders in preparation of their recommendation to council. It was a farce when the ONLY in-person hearing was held in a majority white and wealthy are of the city far from access by Black and Brown residents of Long Beach who are most likely to need intervention by the CPCC. It will always be a farce as long as the city is controlled by corrupt politicians beholden to the LBPOA and other corporate interests.

As this week’s Supreme Court rulings have taught us, often oversight and actions by the citizenry are all we have to protect our rights! The COMPLETE gutting of the CPCC’s ability to monitor the government’s actions is an act of surrender of a basic protection! We have become comfortable in allowing these transgressions to occur, while ignoring the outrage and warnings of professionals like Mr. Downing to go unheeded the result is No Voice or oversight of Government! That is what silence and timidity brings us. Ask any Russian friends you may have…

After seeing the results of the elections and saw that the most corrupt people were re-elected I have given up on the LBC. If its own citizens don't see corruption when its right in-front of them, then these people get what they deserve. LBC had the chance to kick them out and start with reform but they didn't. Now suck it up and enjoy many more years of fraud and corruption that plague this city. There is no hope for this city.

Amen take it and like it. No hope at all.

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