The Long Beach City Council took the first step toward adding reforms to the Citizen Police Complaints Commission in the November ballot.
The Citizen Police Complaint Commission is a council-appointed group of civilians who review evidence and make disciplinary recommendations on complaints against the police. The commission has no disciplinary power, which rests with the general manager.
Criticisms of the power of the Citizen Police Complaint Commission
The commission, created by voters in 1990, has been criticized in recent years. In 2020, former CPCC commissioner Porter Gilberg called the commission “farce” without “decision-making power”.
The police department has disciplinary records of agents regularly destroyed (approved by City Council, although document destruction was discontinued in 2020).
Since June 2020, the The city had spent a total of $31 million to settle lawsuits for use of force incidents by officers, deaths in custody and shootings involving officers.
The CPCC does not have direct access to LBPD information such as incident reports, officer statements, dispatch logs, or body-worn camera footage associated with the police event that led to the a complaint. Instead, they must assign information to LBPD.
CPCC cannot compel officers to make statements, based on a notice from the City Attorney’s Office that such statements involve personal information that is withheld under the Bill of Procedural Rights Act public security officers.
These criticisms led the council to fund a independent external review of the commission by the consultant Polis Solutions (Polis) and Change-Integration Consulting. After a nearly year-long review, Polis presented its findings and recommendations to the board at its Feb. 15 meeting.
Kathyrn Olson, a member of the Polis-Change integration team, said the CPCC model has “inherent limitations” due to redundancy, a lack of community engagement and a “lack of provisions for access to information necessary for a thorough investigation”.
She noted that the current limitations “undermine the accountability and transparency of important goals of civilian oversight” and that community trust in the commission “is in doubt,” according to interviews with Polis stakeholders.
Consultant’s recommendations for CPCC reforms, addition of auditor/controller to review systemic issues
Polis recommended appointing an auditor/comptroller who would conduct systematic reviews of police policies, training and operations, as well as overseeing the Office of Internal Affairs in its investigations.
They would participate in all officers’ use of force investigations. The auditor would be hired by the city council and report back to council on its decisions and findings. Olson noted that it is “critical” that the auditor has “broad and direct access to departmental information, databases, and personnel.”
Vice Mayor Rex Richardson called the addition of an auditor and amendments to the charter “systemic solutions to systemic problems.”
Currently, the CPCC, the internal affairs office and the city manager review complaints separately, creating “redundancies,” Olson said.
The CPCC would not investigate individual complaints under the recommendation.
“Keeping in mind that they didn’t even have, you know, access to all the information necessary for a thorough investigation,” Olson said. “So they conducted investigations based on sometimes limited information.”
Rather than reviewing individual complaints as they currently do, the CPCC would work in a community engagement capacity, bringing back recommendations and feedback from residents to guide the work of the auditor/monitor.
“The bottom line is that the commission is going to perform that community engagement function that’s been lacking for 30 years,” Olson said.
Polis also suggested interim changes to the CPCC that can be made before a ballot measure, such as increasing transparency and providing commissioners with additional and ongoing training.
“It is extremely important to have training. The current model allows us to appoint a commissioner, […] they get a few hours of orientation by the staff and then they leave, right? said council member Al Austin. “And then they make decisions on cases that may require knowledge of a police officer’s actual training.”
The CPCC could also participate in community engagement by visiting neighborhood groups, attending city-sponsored events, and explaining the role of the CPCC to residents.
More substantial interim changes include sharing the results of the City Manager’s case with the CPCC (including why the commission’s recommendation was adopted or not), providing the CPCC with all relevant information reviewed by Internal Affairs and requesting execution of a subpoena by the City Attorney’s Office.
Board members reluctant given the price of the restructuring
The total price of the Polis-recommended changes is $1.43 million, about $901,000 more than CPCC’s current budget.
The model would include the auditor/controller, an audit manager, a critical incident manager, two investigators, a communications officer, an executive assistant, and the commissioner’s current allowances.
With the current challenges facing the city’s coffers – homelessness, housing, crime and economic recovery – many council members have expressed reluctance to move forward with the costly structure.
“I will just say we better not put something on the ballot that we can’t afford. It’s as simple as that,” said board member Daryl Supernaw. “I don’t want to simplify that, but that’s what we’re looking at here.”
City manager Tom Modica said he would work to reduce some of the recommended staff to make the cost more acceptable to council.
Council member Al Austin noted that the CPCC is not as staffed or funded as when it first materialized, although he too was hesitant about the cost.
In a 2020 interview with the Signals tribuneCPCC Director Patrick Weithers said: “Over the past two years, we haven’t had a lot of staff. There was even a time when, before assuming this current role, when I was still an investigator at the CPCC, I was literally the only investigator for several months.
In the same year, former council member Dee Andrews said, “This commission cannot continue to be a tick box when investigating complaints. To be completely honest, I have never heard of a single commissioner or this commission more than once. I never had a briefing from them as other commissions made a point of doing.
How CPCC reforms will or will not make it to the ballot box
Since the CPCC was created by a charter amendment, any changes to the structure of the commission will have to be voted on.
Although the council voted to move forward with the launch of the ballot measurement process, it is unclear whether the article will make it to the ballot.
Tuesday’s meeting was an opportunity for the board to provide direction on how it would like the charter amendment structured, but no board member made any substantive changes to the recommendation, despite his price and structure concerns.
The vote set in motion the drafting of charter amendments as well as the start of meetings and conferences with affected employee groups, including the police department.
It’s unclear how long these meetings and conferences will take, and if council makes additional changes to the charter, city staff will have to restart the meeting and conference process, which could delay the voting process.
Under the current schedule, May 24 will be the last day the City must issue notice of the first public hearing of any potential changes to the City Charter.
If the ballot measure is not passed this year, the board will not be able to attempt to reform the CPCC charter before the 2024 election.