Long Beach is expected to finalize a contract in May with a Seattle-based firm that will be tasked with analyzing the city’s Citizens Police Complaint Commission and submitting conclusions on how it can be improved. The report is expected to be finished by the end of the year.
The CPCC makes recommendations on how to handle hundreds of cases of alleged officer misconduct annually, but the process of evaluating those accusations has been shrouded in secrecy since the commission’s creation in 1990. Its founders have said that the commission is not operating the way they intended it to perform.
After civil unrest in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by a Minneapolis police officer last May, police accountability was thrust to the forefront of city politics and officials pledged to examine how the commission works and how it can be improved.
Polis Solutions is expected to write the report and serve as the consultant for any changes to the CPCC. Polis was founded by ex-police officers and largely deals in training police departments across the country in deescalation tactics and implementing court-ordered reforms.
The update on the contract process with Polis was discussed at Friday’s Public Safety Committee meeting where Deputy City Manager Kevin Jackson said that the city is working out details of the contract and work, which could begin as soon as June. The city has not made a decision yet if those meeting will be virtual or in person.
Jackson said that Polis could seek community engagement building off input already collected during the city’s framework for reconciliation process that was conducted last year and adopted by the City Council in August. One of the recommendations in the initial report was to reform the CPCC.
“We do have the advantage of having a lot of input going into this process but we certainly believe that it’s necessary to continue that input throughout this process to make sure that it’s informed by community expectations,” Jackson said Friday.
In a Monday interview, Jackson said that parts of Polis’ team have “quite a bit of experience” in evaluating oversight structures but the city is unable to disclose all the details of who will be working on the consulting team because the contract is not finalized yet. Jackson added that the city’s focus has not changed over the past year and it’s looking forward to an open and transparent process where changes could be explored that might be able to rebuilt community trust in the police discipline process.
“We really want to do the right thing,” Jackson said.
The Public Safety Committee is chaired by Councilwoman Suely Saro, who served as the chair of the CPCC before running for City Council. Saro acknowledged the recent verdict against former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin as a start but said that there is still work to do to fix the council-declared public health crisis caused by racism, and to rebuild community trust of the police.
“The system provided accountability and a beginning for justice but there are those who feel that true justice is to create system change,” Saro said.
Other recommendations that came out of the framework for reconciliation process included expanding the powers of the CPCC to compel both officers and witnesses to testify at hearings as well as strengthening subpoena powers of the commission.
Some called for a dissolution of the commission in favor of a community oversight committee that has subpoena and disciplinary powers. Currently any disciplinary decisions by the CPCC are only recommendations and are administered solely at the discretion of the city manager’s office.
The consultant’s analysis is expected to look at bylaws and policies of the CPCC, but also at city and state laws and how they could limit what the CPCC does in the future.
For instance, state laws shield officers from being compelled to testify outside of departmental or criminal proceedings. And the way the city charter is currently written, any discipline resulting from a CPCC investigation is ultimately left in the hands of the City Manager.
The consultant’s report could make recommendations that wouldn’t require charter reform, such as increasing staffing levels. The CPCC currently has one full-time investigator and the $150,000 in new structural funding approved by the City Council, which is being used to pay for this report, would likely only pay for one additional investigator.
City officials have said for months that a charter reform is likely to be up for a vote in 2022 to change how the CPCC works, but what those changes could be are likely to be sorted out in the next eight months.
Jackson said a report is expected back to the City Council by December with enough time for any potential charter change to be submitted in time for the November 2022 election.
The Public Safety Committee is expected to hear a fuller presentation on the how the CPCC works at its next scheduled meeting.
Editors note: The story has been updated to include comments from Deputy City Manager Kevin Jackson.
Support our journalism.
Hyperlocal news is an essential force in our democracy, but it costs money to keep an organization like this one alive, and we can’t rely on advertiser support alone. That’s why we’re asking readers like you to support our independent, fact-based journalism. We know you like it—that’s why you’re here. Help us keep hyperlocal news alive in Long Beach.