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HTNLA: CIVIL RIGHTS
(Chava Sanchez
/
LAist)
Criminal Justice
Here's What We Know About LA's New Civil Rights Department
A violation of the Civil and Human Rights Ordinance can mean a fine of $250,000.
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There's a newly established city department handling reports of racial discrimination in Los Angeles: the Department of Civil and Human Rights (CHRD).

In February, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti announced his nomination of Capri Maddox to head the new unit.

Maddox — a local attorney who previously led the L.A. Board of Public Works, created the city's foster care diversion program, and was the executive director of partnerships for LAUSD — is the department's first executive director.

She's leading the core effort to investigate Angelenos' complaints of racism, discrimination, and unequal treatment related to employment, housing, education, and commerce.

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The department is also tasked with supporting and advising L.A.'s Civil and Human Rights Commission and enforcing the Civil and Human Rights Ordinance.

Timeline:

The commission — which was created prior to recent protests against systemic racism and police brutality — has come into the spotlight as part of the sweeping cultural upheaval that followed the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, and the deaths of so many other Black Americans at the hands of law enforcement.

Maddox spoke at a June 5 press conference about the ongoing protests. She reflected on her time as a student worker with the housing department around the time of L.A. civil unrest in 1992.

"I would have never believed that in the city of Los Angeles, we would have to create a department involving civil and human rights in 2020," she said. "It's time for a change."

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The department held its inaugural meeting a week later.

The Process For Getting Help

The commission has jurisdiction over four broad areas: employment, housing, commerce, and education. And it will have some enforcement powers, too.

The process starts with a citizen notifying the department.

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Maddox told us that the department will look into reported incidents and disparities. If there is a violation of the Civil and Human Rights Ordinance, they can send an investigation letter of concern. She expects many complaints will end here.

"Sometimes people just need to know that someone's watching, and they can easily correct the behavior," she said.

There's also a mediation process, administrative hearings, a path for appeals, and enforcement powers — including fines up to $250,000 per violation.

Another tool the department has is the power of referrals to other agencies, like the district attorney's office, or attorney general's office.

Maddox and her team will also collaborate with a number of organizations and individuals, including the Commission on the Status of Women, the Human Relations Commission, the Office of Racial Equity, community-based organizations, and more.

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And while the Civil and Human Rights Department does not have enforcement powers over public entities like the police, "we will not be silent as it relates to wrongs that are done by folks in law enforcement," Maddox said. "I do want to be clear that we will have a voice as it relates to police incidents, through our various commissions."

The budget for the new department is $2.5 million, and they're looking to have a staff of about 20 people.

"We know that the tide of racism is blatant. ... There are a number of things that send a message that hate is on the rise ... people that believe in justice need to rise up as well," she said during an interview on KPCC's Take Two.

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Editor's note: Capri Maddox sits on the Board of Trustees for Southern California Public Radio, which publishes LAist.com.

With contributions from Jessica Ogilvie, Brian Frank, Lisa Brenner, and Take Two.

Image Credit (top): Chava Sanchez/LAist