Plan for LAPD civilian discipline panels moves forward

Los Angeles City Hall is reflected on the glass facade of the LAPD headquarters in this 2014 file photo. The city council voted unanimously Wednesday to move toward creating civilian panels that would review discipline involving cops accused of misconduct. Jae C. Hong/AP

Under heavy lobbying from the union that represents rank and file LAPD officers, the Los Angeles City Council Wednesday took the first step toward creating civilian panels that would review discipline involving cops accused of misconduct.

The change could tip the balance in favor of officers — studies show civilians are actually more lenient with cops involved in wrongdoing than command officers.

The council voted unanimously to ask the city attorney to draft several possible measures to place before voters in May. One would allow officers facing termination by Chief Charlie Beck to request their case be heard before an all-civilian panel that could overturn Beck’s decision.

Right now, discipline recommendations are made by an LAPD “Board of Rights” panel that includes two members of Beck’s command staff and one civilian. They can find an officer guilty or not guilty of everything from wrongfully shooting someone to lying on a police report. After the panels recommend discipline, the chief can accept or reduce it.

He cannot increase the discipline.

A report from the city legislative analyst found panels rejected Beck’s recommendation for termination in slightly more than half of 229 cases from 2011 through November 2016. When officers were found not guilty, the civilian on the panel voted in favor of the officer.

Union leaders denied they are shopping for more lenient panels. They said they want all-civilian panels because Beck plays favorites — pressuring his command staff to vote against officers he doesn’t like.

“These officers are scared to death to go to a Board of Rights,” said Craig Lally, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League. “They’ll cop out to anything to avoid the board, even if it's untrue.”

For months, the union has been lobbying the mayor and city council on the issue. City Council President Herb Wesson dismissed any suggestion he was buckling to political pressure from the union. He said he thinks civilians would do better than Beck’s command staff disciplining officers.

“In my lifetime, whenever there is citizen participation, things are better,” Wesson said.

Mayor Eric Garcetti echoed the sentiment, despite the study showing civilians are more lenient.

“It would free LAPD command officers to spend more time on police work,” Garcetti added in a statement.

Police reform activists expressed alarm at the proposal.

Pete White of the L.A. Community Action Network and Black Lives Matter said he might support including more civilians if they were police reform activists – not the attorneys who sit on the panels for 10 and 20 years in a row.

“There could be an opportunity to fundamentally change the way discipline is rendered in the LAPD,” White said. “But not with the current proposal.”

The deadline for the city council to place a measure on the May ballot is in 10 days.