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When it comes to crime and police reform, California loses

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Violent crime is on the rise in California. So is the public’s fear of crime. And so does the poll-driven, anti-crime political rhetoric.

But if that leads to some kind of blind faith in law enforcement and a waiver of police reform, we’ll all be worse off.

Few things demonstrate this more clearly than the recent Los Angeles Police Commission meeting.

On Tuesday, the commissioners heard the breakdown of a new report from the LAPD inspector general detailing how ineffective some of their oversight work has appeared to have been in recent years.

Mayor Eric Garcetti ordered the report back in January, hoping to bring some clarity to the LAPD’s murky system of disciplining officers.

And indeed, the report found unequivocally that most police officers found by the commission to have violated the department’s deadly force policy ultimately received little or no discipline.

Why? Because the commissioners’ decisions were essentially overturned by one of two appeals processes – sometimes with the final blessing of Police Commissioner Michel Moore or his predecessor Charlie Beck.

The findings of the inspector general’s report were disturbing. But not half as much as the conversation about it.

For example, the commissioners didn’t even address why 40% of LAPD officers found to have wrongly shot and sometimes killed suspects went unpunished.

(To be fair, the President of the Commission, William Briggs, later said my Times colleague Kevin Rector that such a finding is “demonstrative of an imperfect system and why we need to work harder to make it reflective of what citizens are doing [L.A.] want.”)

There were also many clear exchanges, like this Doozy between Commission Vice President Eileen Decker and Assistant Inspector General Django Sibley.

“All 18 of those counts were reduced to ‘not guilty’?” Decker asked.

“Right,” Sibley said.

“What I’m trying to understand is what does ‘not guilty’ mean?” Decker continued. “Now does that mean the Board of Police Commissioners’ decision that the case was out of compliance has been overturned?”

“Well, as the records would appear, the officer’s use of force would be out of policy. But the action taken in connection with this was that the finding was appealed [administrative] hearing and was found not guilty,” Sibley stated. “So the Commission’s finding is still reflected in the records as it was the final outcome of the decision. But the record would also reflect that the appeal action was taken thereafter and that the outcome of that appeal was a “not guilty” finding.”

Uff.

Ultimately, the commissioners voted to better follow up such disciplinary decisions made on appeal, including through the prosecutor’s office and through the possible publication of information about the cases online.

However, when the supervision looks like this, it leaves a lot to be desired. The lack of accountability certainly does not inspire public confidence.

There was understandably a lot of head shaking during Tuesday’s meeting. But also a sense of helplessness — especially in this political environment — about what they could realistically do about officials who sidestep suspensions or terminations in sometimes unnecessarily private appeal hearings.

It all reminded me of a conversation I had with outspoken police critic John Hamasaki.

The progressive defense attorney, perhaps best known in LA for his work representing the late rapper Drakeo the Ruler, announced last week that he would not be returning to the San Francisco Police Commission when his term expires next month.

On Twitter, he angrily threw in the proverbial towel, citing the ingrained crime-fighting culture and the many failures to implement effective reforms.

“I just lost faith in my ability to change what happened,” Hamasaki told me shortly after a jury found San Francisco official Terrance Stangel innocent of excessively beating an unarmed black man.

Among many things including Anger at San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scotthe blamed his impending departure on the way police unions were encouraged by this criminal Redux era of California politics to resist reform.

“They were masters at slowing things down and then waiting for a friendlier political climate like now when there are politicians saying the gloves are off,” Hamasaki said.

Well, not all politicians. Many Democrats have attempted to achieve both. Just as Governor Gavin Newsom describes the “California way” of public safety in his recent State of the State address.

“Our approach is not to be indifferent to the realities of the present, nor to resort to the stubborn policies that have marked the failures of the past,” he stressed. “We fund local law enforcement agencies and prosecutors to investigate and solve more crimes. We’re strengthening the Attorney General’s office, prosecuting organized suffering and taking illegal guns off our streets.

“We’re also investing hundreds of millions in new programs to get to the root causes of crime, while doubling down on our proven violence prevention programs.”

Most people running for mayor of Los Angeles have said some version of it. Some have attempted to walk an even finer line.

Representative Karen Bass, for example, has been grieved by progressives for wanting to expand the LAPD’s ranks back to its authorized force of 9,700 officers. But she has also said that a focus on fighting crime should not be used as an excuse to abandon reform.

Hamasaki told me pretty much the same thing.

“Even if you return to a heavier crime [approach], there is still a way you can reform,” he said. “They are not mutually exclusive.”

The question is how — if reformers are drowned out, their hands are tied, or they’re so disillusioned that they’re leaving.

“You know,” Hamasaki said, “you always need political will.”

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-03-17/california-loses-when-tough-on-crime-beats-police-reform When it comes to crime and police reform, California loses

Dais Johnston

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