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Why The L.A. Times, The ACLU, And Black Lives Matter Oppose Measure C

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The City of Los Angeles faced a number of political divides during the March primary season, most notably around the question of development (see: Measure S, the now-embattled election between Gil Cedillo and Joe Bray-Ali for the District 1 City Council seat). The next election on May 16 brings another ballot measure to the table, and this one revolves around the idea of police accountability and justice reform. The timing could not be more appropriate— this year marks the 25th anniversary of the '92 civil unrest, and the past few years have placed police brutality at the forefront of the political consciousness. So what does the measure want, exactly?

The official ballot measure copy is as follows, via a sample ballot obtained from L.A. Vote:

Shall the Charter be amended to allow the City Council to provide that a police
officer who is entitled to a Police Department Board of Rights hearing for a
disciplinary matter may select a Board of Rights composed of all civilian

To understand the question, it's necessary to know what the Police Department Board of Rights is in the first place. The LAPD Board of Rights is the internal disciplinary system for the LAPD where police accused of misconduct present their case to a panel, which decides the type of penalty for misconduct. The police chief then has the ability to proceed with the board's choice of penalty or opt for a less stringent punishment. In the past, the Board of Rights panels were comprised solely of police officers. In 1992, in response to public dismay at the acquittal of the police officers who beat Rodney King, the city voted to add a civilian member to the board.

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"Civilian" might not mean what you think, however, because in order to qualify for the spot on the board, you must have seven years of arbitration experience or similar work and undergo a private interview with the police commission. Recent studies presented to City Council also have demonstrated that the civilian members are often the most lenient member of the board, with a history of voting for a lesser punishment than the one recommended by the police officers on the disciplining committee.

The measure, if passed, will allow a police officer charged with misconduct to have the option of facing either the current version of the board (two officers and one civilian) or a board consisting of three civilians. Considering the historical leniency of civilians on the Board of Rights, this may present police officers with a disciplinary option that favors acquittal.

Supporters for the amendment include Mayor Eric Garcetti, the Los Angeles Police Protective League, and the commissioner and ex-president of the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners. The LAPD has had a number of internal complaints about the current disciplinary system, notably because of the number of lawsuits settled by the city as a result of police officers' actions, according to the L.A. Times. The argument in favor claims the need for severe overhaul in the disciplinary system in order to have police officers maintain accountability with the community. As noted by the Times, the Protective League, a police officers union, had "once strongly resisted civilian participation" but changed their stance when it became clear that civilians would be more lenient in their decisions.

Opponents for the measure include the L.A. Times, the Jewish Journal, ACLU SoCal, and the L.A. branch of Black Lives Matter. The argument against Charter Amendment C claims police reform is necessary, but this option would lessen the opportunity for real discipline and instead gives police officers an easy way out. The ACLU said in a statement, "it is especially troubling that a ballot measure seeks to overturn decades of effort towards meaningful police reform."

Furthermore, as explained in the Times official opposition to the measure, the selection of the civilian board will rest on City Council's shoulders, therefore leaving the possibilities of its ideological makeup up to speculation: "The charter amendment would leave the selection of civilians — who is eligible, how the pool is chosen — to the City Council. Will the pool be stocked with retired police officers? We don’t know. Will it be filled by police reformers or critics from Black Lives Matter? We don’t know — although the police union seems confident that the council will craft the selection process to its satisfaction."

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City Council President Herb Wesson, who's in favor of the measure, told the Times that he does not “see anything negative about more citizen, or civilian, participation," adding, “I don’t anticipate that this will loosen or reduce discipline. I think this will be a fair process, where you’ll have a civilian group of folk that are engaged.”