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Activists Say Revised Oversight Model Not Enough

Police reform advocates want commission decisions to influence disciplinary actions

Published on Monday, August 24, 2020 | 1:56 pm

Local activists told Pasadena Now that changes to a plan that could lead to the hiring of an independent police auditor and the seating of a civilian oversight commission don’t go far enough.

According to the City Council agenda, the plan’s proposed police commission “would consist of 9-13 members appointed by the City Council after a public screening process to include vetting by unnamed community organizations and the adoption of targets for membership composition.”

The proposal also calls for an independent police auditor (IPA) to be hired by the city attorney – earlier versions had the City Manager making the hire — “with the participation of the commission.” The auditor would have subpoena powers to facilitate gathering information during investigations.

But according to a staff report, any information obtained or reviewed by the IPA, as well as any reports issued by the IPA, could not be used to influence any disciplinary or personnel decisions.

Mayor Terry Tornek, who worked on a previous plan with Councilman John Kennedy, head of the council’s Public Safety Commission, said this new plan evolved as discussions on the matter continued.

“We made a number of changes. This is a process where people make suggestions and it continues to evolve. So we made a bunch of changes, both in terms of how the commission could be selected and in terms of where the independent police auditor would be and what authority the office would have. That’s the reason why you have multiple discussions on an issue, to try to get other people’s ideas and make modifications.”

Police reform advocates, however, say the plan does not go far enough if it is connected to local government structures, or if the findings of the commission cannot influence disciplinary action on officers.

“The revised Tornek/Kennedy oversight draft would deny use of information gained by an IPA subpoena that would ‘impact any disciplinary or personnel decisions,’” said longtime civil rights activist Kris Ockershauser. “The purpose of serious citizen oversight is to bring greater policing transparency and to hold police accountable for misconduct. The draft before the council does not enable such accountability and will not be of help.”

Juliana Serrano reiterated the needs outlined in the Community Bill of Rights, which advocates for independent oversight.

“That means we need the IPA and commission not to be tied to government structures where there could be a potential conflict of interest with the oversight of the Police Department,” Serrano said. “The role of the city attorney is to protect the city. The council must carefully examine placing the IPA under the city attorney given that fact, and in light of the true independence that the community is demanding.”

The council’s latest actions come in the aftermath of the officer-involved shooting death of 32-year-old Anthony McClain.

McClain fled during a traffic stop shortly before 8 p.m. on Aug. 15, prompting a police officer to fire multiple rounds from his weapon.

Police claim McClain pulled a weapon from his waistband as he ran away and shifted his body toward police officers running behind him, prompting the shooting.

Perez said the Police Department is waiting for DNA results and fingerprint evidence on the gun.

McClain and a friend were stopped by police on North Raymond Avenue near La Pintoresca Park just before 8 p.m. on Saturday after officers noticed the vehicle did not have a front license plate, police said.

The incident brought the discussion of police shootings home and changed local protests after the George Floyd shooting in May into more heated gatherings of people seeking justice.

Since the McClain shooting, police have declared two large gatherings of demonstrators unlawful, although a dozen others have been allowed to continue, including protests at the homes of Mayor Terry Tornek and Councilman Victor Gordo, Tornek’s opponent in the November election.

Tornek said the final details of parts of the process would be worked out when the ordinance comes back before the council in 30 or 60 days if the council passes the item.

“Subpoena power would be very helpful, but I would hope they don’t get just gummed up on having subpoena power,” said former NAACP President Joe Brown. “I believe that comes at some future point. If it’s not in this package, it could be in a future package where there is a revision or they go back to revisit it. That makes it a little bit easier to get a little bit of a bite of everything at a time, rather than saying to tear up everything because you didn’t get that one little caveat.”

This is the second plan the City Council has voted on. Earlier this month, the council shot down a plan that would have placed the commission and the IPA under the purview of the City Council and bestowed subpoena power upon the commission.

That plan would have required approval from local voters.

“We need to find out if there’s a majority of the City Council that is ready to approve the idea of a civilian oversight commission, and an independent police auditor,” Tornek said. “Those are the threshold issues. There’s enough information in there I think to give the council the answers they need about whether they’re comfortable moving ahead with that or not. But the final details, I don’t think we can do the word sniffing and hone some of the final details with eight council members. I think we need to delegate some responsibility to the staff and the public to work it out and then bring it back to the council for a final vote.”

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