In major shift, city to allow oversight commission to see police officer statements

In a significant shift in policy, the city will now provide statements made by officers as part of investigations into their conduct to an oversight body that before had been barred from seeing them.

The Citizen Police Complaint Commission, created 30 years ago, has never been able to see police officer statements while it investigates complaints made by the public against officers.

That lack of information has led to decisions by the commission being overturned by the city manager, something that happened in the vast majority of cases brought to the commission over the past four years. In that span of time, the city manager has upheld just 28 findings of misconduct out of the 112 such findings made by the commission—something that was decried by critics this past summer during protests over police brutality.

Without the full scope of information into cases, the commission’s effectiveness had been hampered, critics, including commissioners themselves, have said.

City officials said in a memo from City Manger Tom Modica that new state legislation led to the revised policy, which will allow the commission to gain a fuller picture of the cases and complaints they are investigating.

Officer statements will be provided to commissioners beginning Jan. 1.

The change in practice going forward was attributed in part to Senate Bill 1421, a landmark police transparency bill that went into effect last January that required previously protected police records to be made public.

Modica’s memo said that at the request of the Long Beach Police Department, the city attorney’s office conducted a legal review and decided that the compelled statements could be provided to commissioners without compromising officers’ privacy.

“We believe that the commission can now have access to these, which I think will be beneficial to the commission and the police department thinks will be beneficial,” said City Attorney Charles Parkin.

Parkin said that the city had a brief meeting with the Long Beach Police Officers Association, the union that represents LBPD officers, and will conduct a similar meeting with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, the union that represents other officers like those who provide security for City Hall. No challenge is expected by either group.

While the statements will be made available to commissioners during their deliberations over complaints submitted to the CPCC, they will not be released to the general public. It’s unclear how this might affect commissioners’ decisions going forward, Parkin said.

“Maybe they were only getting the person’s statement and didn’t know what the officers’ position was and now they will have it,” Parkin said. “It is an important piece for them to have, for sure.”

 

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