City Council asks for options on how Citizen Police Complaint Commission can be modified

After a week of protests and promises from city leaders that changes to the police department would come swiftly, the Long Beach City Council directed the city manager to report back in the next 30 days about possible changes that could make the city’s Citizens Police Complaint Commission more transparent and powerful.

The 11-member commission has been in existence for just over 30 years, but only serves in an advisory capacity, investigating police complaints and recommending discipline for misconduct.

Commissioners have been critical that information about cases is withheld or filtered before it reaches them, and their recommendations can be reversed without any explanation. The city manager has final authority to uphold or reverse those decisions.

No concrete ideas for reforming the CPCC were introduced Tuesday. The city attorney’s office said Monday that because the commission was established through a charter amendment by a vote of the people, any material change to its powers would likely require another ballot measure, however tweaks to its bylaws and other peripheral changes likely would not.

Councilman Al Austin, who introduced the item Tuesday, recounted his start as a public servant when he served on the commission in the early 2000s. Austin said that improvements could be seen through the commission’s staffing—it employs two part-time investigators that are tasked with looking into hundreds of complaints annually—and by training the commissioners more vigorously.

“As citizens we’re not police officers, we don’t have the same level of training or understanding of what is in the mind of an officer,” Austin said. “But we should in taking and reviewing these cases have a better understanding.”

Councilman Roberto Uranga said he was concerned that the body lacks authority.

“One of the things that has come to my attention over the years is that the CPCC has no teeth,” he said. “It has recommendations but no authority do deal with wayward officers.”

Reform of the CPCC had become a talking point for city leaders as protestors marched on the city for days calling for meaningful police reform and more accountability for officer use of force. Speaking at a protest Friday afternoon, a current commissioner, Porter Gilberg, called the body “a farce.”

On two separate occasions last week Mayor Robert Garcia met with protesters outside City Hall noting the mistreatment that black Americans have faced and said that changes were on the way, specifically for the commission. On Tuesday he echoed some of those remarks and said that the city should look at tweaks that could be made to improve it outside its mandated powers written into the city’s charter.

“I do believe it’s time for change and I do believe we do have a unique opportunity to really creating a model commission or system,” Garcia said.

Any changes sought by the city that would require a ballot measure would have to wait until after the November election as the deadline to qualify items for that ballot has already passed. If a ballot measure were pursued it would likely be pushed to the next regularly scheduled election if the city did not call a special election for a charter reform of the commission.

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post.
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