Kathryn Olson of Change Integration, one of the two firms hired by the city to guide the CPCC reform process, speaks to the audience inside a Browning High School meeting room Thursday Sept. 23, 2021.

A police oversight commission formed over 30 years ago needs to be overhauled, and given more power and resources to hold officers accountable, residents told city leaders during a meeting Thursday that at times turned combative and disruptive.

The 11-member Citizen Police Complaint Commission was formed by a ballot measure in 1990 after a high-profile excessive force incident involving Long Beach Police Department officers was broadcast nationally, spurring action from residents in the city who had long complained of the heavy-handed tactics used by the the department.

However, its founders argued that the commission was undermined from the start with city officials working to wrest away the power residents hoped it would wield when it came to disciplining police officers.

The commission received hundreds of complaints this year but only has three full-time or part-time investigators to handle the case load. The ultimate disciplinary power was given to the city manager, who regularly upholds just a small fraction of complaints that are sustained by commissioners—something many said needs to be changed.

Revamping the commission was a recent promise made by politicians in the wake of the civil unrest that followed the murder of George Floyd by a former Minneapolis Police Department officer in May 2020.

On Thursday, about two dozen residents sat inside a meeting room at Browning High School in East Long Beach where city staff, and the consultant it hired to oversee potential changes to the structure of the commission, tried to guide a discussion about procedures and alternatives. The meeting was also marred by technical issues, with the lone microphone being used consistently cutting out.

The presentation was often interrupted by outbursts from the crowd alleging police misconduct and multiple people calling the commission “toothless.”

Richard Lindemann, a former CPCC commissioner who served from 2015 through 2019, said that some of the things the commission was told through the internal investigation reports it reviewed were “absolute lies.” Lindemann said that the commission has no power.

“Right now as it is, it has nothing,” Lindemann said.

Barbara Shoag, one of the people who helped get the CPCC approved in 1990 and served as the commission’s first chair, said the goal now should be to make it better.

“I did my very best and I failed,” Shoag said of her efforts 30 years ago to create a commission that had real power.

Thursday’s meeting was one of two the city scheduled to allow the public to give its input on potential changes to the commission. It was the only in-person meeting; some questioned whether the city showed a sincere effort to engage the community.

Deputy City Manager Kevin Jackson said hundreds of emails were sent out those who participated in last year’s Framework for Reconciliation process as well as persons who had previously filed complaints with the CPCC. Notices were also posted by individual council members and through city social media accounts.

Jackson said that the city was already looking into adding more meetings but it could be tough given the timeline it has to provide a report back to the City Council by December.

“It’s not lost upon us to do a little bit more,” Jackson said.

Wynne Turkington said she received an email last week about the meeting, but without it she wouldn’t have been aware it was happening. Turkington had filed a complaint against multiple officers and said that there needs to be more transparency to the process.

“I was in the dark during the whole investigation and then, boom, it was over,” Turkington said. “There was no accountability for the police officers.”

Turkington said that one of the eight officers was ultimately disciplined, but the city declined to tell her which one was, and what the form of discipline was. She was unaware that the city manager was the one who ultimately got to decide if an officer should be disciplined.

“I feel like I have a right to know; they’re public servants,” Turkington said.

Addressing the CPCC was one of the lower priorities identified during the city’s Framework for Reconciliation process held last summer that included tracking what issues residents raised. Defunding the police (52.9%), having the city depend on more social workers rather than police (18.5%) and mandatory police trainings emphasizing de-escalation and mental health (13.4%) all scored higher with the public last summer.

Lessening the political influence of police unions over local government (36.5%) and increasing transparency of both police and government processes (30.8%) were the two largest scoring topics tabulated during last year’s listening sessions.

Kathryn Olson, a member of the Polis-Change Integration consulting team leading the CPCC reform process, said that the two firms intend to take the public input collected over the last year and present options to the City Council later this year.

“There’s no perfect model,” Olson said. “Every jurisdiction goes through this. The process usually does not take 30 years, this [Long Beach] is the winner here, but they go through a process to determine if this is what they want.”

Olson said that it’s important that the questions raised by attendees be addressed, like how commissioners are selected for service on the commission—they’re appointed by the mayor and approved by the council—as well as the why hearings aren’t being held by the commission in the way that the charter allows.

She cautioned that looking to other cities’ models as things that Long Beach could adopt is not so simple. Officers’ rights vary by state and something that could work in Oregon would not necessarily work in California.

California law protects officers from being compelled to testify outside of departmental or criminal proceedings.

The proposed changes could happen through administrative changes at the city level, but larger changes, like removing the city manager as the final word on discipline, could require a ballot measure to reform the city charter. Any changes would require the City Council’s approval.

Residents could also introduce their own ballot measure. The last time a resident-led ballot measure won was in 2016 when Measure MM legalized cannabis sales in the city by allowing up to 32 dispensaries to open in Long Beach. The City Council had been discussing their own cannabis-legalization ordinances with its versions allowing far fewer dispensaries citywide.

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz_LB on Twitter.