Long Beach to consider letting voters change how police oversight commission works
Long Beach voters could get the opportunity to change the city’s Citizen Police Complaint Commission later this year in the wake of public pressure to fix issues with the body that has been unable to deliver on the promise of greater accountability for police officers.
While the commission’s ineffectiveness had been criticized in the past, it wasn’t until weeks of civil unrest rocked the city after the murder of George Floyd in May 2020 that elected officials pledged to fix the CPCC’s shortcomings.
Almost two years later, on Tuesday, the City Council voted to refer the issue to its charter amendment committee. Because the CPCC was established in the 1990s by a charter amendment approved by voters, it requires another citywide vote to make substantial changes. With that comes a lengthy legal process to put the issue on November’s ballot.
According to a city presentation Tuesday night, the first of three legally required committee meetings could happen June 14 with the final meeting taking place Aug. 9.
Founders of the CPCC and contemporary members of the commission have said the body is ineffective, overworked and falling far short of the type of oversight residents sought to create in 1990 when voters approved its creation.
For decades the committee has not fully used its subpoena power and state laws has shielded officers from having to appear for testimony or having their disciplinary records opened up for review, making it impossible for commissioners to determine if they were reviewing cases tied to a repeat offender or not.
In many cases, the commission’s decisions to uphold complaints against officers were overturned by the city manager’s office, which holds final authority on punishment for officers.
The new Police Oversight Commission that could replace the CPCC if it is placed on the ballot and approved by voters would fundamentally change the role of commissioners and reduce its membership from 11 to seven.
Commissioners would no longer take votes to uphold or reject complaints against officers but would instead serve as an educational arm and advisory panel for a newly created Police Oversight Director. They would still receive briefings from the director but would be reduced to suggesting areas of focus for the director.
The director would be appointed by the City Council and would act as an auditor but would rely solely on reports produced by the police department’s internal investigations unit. Currently, the CPCC has a small team of investigators who look into incidents separate from internal reviews by the LBPD.
Some of the director’s powers would include reviewing major use-of-force incidents and the ability to investigate critical incidents involving high-ranking officers or police shootings, but only if the City Manager’s Office requests it. The City Manager would retain its final say in officer disciplinary decisions.
The proposed language for the charter amendment committee to consider comes after 10 months of work by city-hired consulting firms that conducted a handful of public outreach events including just one in-person community meeting and a survey that received just 31 responses.
Council members have the ability to amend the language prior to putting the issue on the ballot in November. If voters approve the charter amendment, the council would have to meet again to approve a budget for the new commission, something that previous projections showed could cost the city as much as $1.4 million. The previous budget for the CPCC was about $500,000.
The city is also considering whether to ask voters if they want to merge the city’s water and gas departments into one city department. Both issues will be debated by the charter amendment committee over the next few months before a potential Aug. 9 vote to place them on the ballot.
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