Departing Los Angeles police commissioners leave newcomers with advice

Police Commission and long-time Los Angeles civil rights leader John Mack (center) was honored by his commission colleagues with a distinguished service award for 8 years on the board.
Police Commission and long-time Los Angeles civil rights leader John Mack (center) was honored by his commission colleagues with a distinguished service award for 8 years on the board. Erika Aguilar/KPCC

Departing Los Angeles police commissioners tossed questions at presentations and even peeked at next week’s agenda items, even though Tuesday’s meeting was their final one before new appointees take their seats on the dais. 

Four nameplates will be changed at the L.A. Police Commission to reflect the appointees nominated by Mayor Eric Garcetti to the civilian police oversight board.

“I came in here feeling like that strange uncle,” said parting police commissioner John Mack.

Mack, the well-known civil rights attorney formerly with the L.A. Urban League, said he used to be at war with the L.A. Police Department fighting heavy-handed department policing policies and racism before taking his post with the police civilian oversight board. He was honored Tuesday for his eight years of service.  

“It has been a great journey,” he said. “I’m extremely proud of what together we’ve been able to accomplish.”

Commissioner Robert Saltzman said he empathized with Mack’s “strange uncle” feeling. He is the only police commissioner to be reappointed.

“I’m pleased to continue to serve, but it is going to be different,” Saltzman said.

Newcomers include real estate professional and former city parks commissioner Steve Soboroff, former news media executive Paula Madison, immigration and human trafficking law professor Kathleen Kim and community organizer and non-profit director Sandra Figuerora-Villa. The L.A. City Council must approve the appointments.

Some key differences between the members of the two police commissions is the legal backgrounds and longtime LAPD experience among the commissioners. On the previous commission, Rafael Bernardino, John Mack, Andrea Ordin, Richard Drooyan and Robert Saltzman are all attorneys with some of their past practice in the civil rights or criminal law areas.

Ordin served on the Christopher Commission during the tumultuous LAPD years. Mack helped negotiate an end to the federal consent decree and has been a driving force behind diversifying the department’s sworn personnel and influencing policy when it comes to race relations.

“I think that it is a unique commission in the history of Los Angeles because of its depths, because of its expertise and because of its credibility,” said Chief Charlie Beck.

Though the appointees for the police commission don’t have past hands-on experience in the LAPD's operations or where it’s come from, they have grassroots ties to neighborhoods and come with a fresh look at the LAPD.

During the meeting, the inspector general presented its review of the LAPD’s quarterly officer discipline report involving complaints filed last year about biased policing. Staff with the inspector general’s office said it reviewed how each complaint was investigated and resolved, and made no recommendations on them.  

Outgoing commissioner Richard Drooyan said he was pleased with the outcome, but encouraged the commission staff to continue to review each investigation and advised the new commission to always ask questions.  

“It’s the kind of thing that you can lose credibility very quickly if you don’t maintain the vigilance,” he said.

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