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City Committee Members Discuss Police Investigation Policies on Officer-Involved Shootings

Published on Thursday, October 14, 2021 | 6:45 am
A Pasadena police officer-involved shooting which occurred on Friday, May 8, 2020. (Photo by James Carbone)

City councilmembers on the Public Safety Committee discussed the Pasadena Police Department’s policies on officer-involved shootings in a Wednesday meeting.

The discussion will go to the full City Council. Mayor Victor Gordo has asked city staff to bring data relating to complaints filed against police officers, including the number of officers who were disciplined and penalized by the city in recent years.

During Wednesday’s information-only meeting, Javan Rad, chief assistant city attorney, said the city’s charter prevents the city council from imposing deadlines on the administrative review by the Police Department of officers involved in fatal shootings.

“Under the administrative service of the city manager, the manager hires the chief, chief hires employees within the police department, and so for the council to direct the timing of how the chief might conduct an administrative review, we believe that would interfere with the charter.” 

“With that being said, I think particularly with the officer-involved shooting, I think there’s some convening factors and also some considerations that really would suggest that it may be best to leave things to the chief,” said Rad. 

He explained that it is considered “best practice” for the department to wait first for the conclusion of the district attorney’s investigation to determine if a criminal case is to be lodged against a police officer before the Police Department concludes its administrative review.

“Oftentimes in recent years, the district attorney will take months, sometimes years, to reach a conclusion,” said Rad.

However, he also pointed out that there are exceptions to this, and the department may “choose to act quickly” if it sees that an officer committed serious violations.

The officer-involved shooting of Anthony McClain has been under investigation for more than a year.

According to police policy, following an officer-involved shooting (known as an OIS), an in-custody death, and other critical incidents, Pasadena detectives and the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office conduct separate criminal investigations.

The D.A.’s response team rolls out at the same time as local detectives after the shooting occurs. 

The D.A. produces a finding based on both the police investigation and their investigation to determine if the officers acted within the framework of the law.

If it is concluded the officers acted outside that framework, prosecutors next decide if criminal charges should be filed against the involved officers.

Councilmember Tyron Hampton characterized Rad’s comments as opinion and maintained that the Council could move forward to introduce a policy that will speed up the termination of city officials. Hampton also said that the Police Department should no longer wait for the result of criminal investigations before deciding whether or not to fire a police official.

“This is the opinion of our city attorney’s office. How about we move forward with the policy and see what happens or get another opinion,” Hampton said. 

“I’m saying, we have a personnel investigation that needs to be completed. It needs to be completed in a timely fashion, no community member nor should any police officer have to wait years for them to get some discipline,” Hampton said. “You don’t have to be a criminal to be fired or disciplined.”

He cited as an example the Long Beach Unified School District’s firing of a school safety officer who shot and killed an 18-year-old woman in a moving car earlier this October. 

But both City Manager Steve Mermell and Police Chief John Perez stood behind the current policy, saying while agencies can proceed with personnel investigations pending decisions on criminal cases, it will be best to wait for decisions of investigative bodies. 

Across the country some cities have acted quickly to fire police officers who have acted egregiously outside of policy. In some cases, like the George Floyd incident, officers have been prosecuted.

But in many cases, cities have been forced to rehire police officers who were fired without due process. 

According to a series of articles in the Washington Post published in 2017,  in the last 15 years, some of the nation’s largest police departments fired at least 1,881 officers for misconduct, but more than 450 officers were reinstated in appeals processes required by union contracts.

Perez said it is necessary that results of investigations are out before he recommends the firing of police personnel. 

“That is not the professional way to complete an entire investigation. You need all elements and every investigation,” he pointed out. 

According to Mermell, the city council can tell the city manager to do all administrative reviews in a timely fashion, but the council cannot set the policy.

“The [ city] manager benefits from getting input from councilmembers, but as I understand the requirement of our charter, it falls short of giving the council authority to establish that personnel policy per se,” Mermell said. 

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One thought on “City Committee Members Discuss Police Investigation Policies on Officer-Involved Shootings

  • Keith Calayag and Pasadena Now practice useful journalism in this example, which contrasts favorably with their giant media competition. The discussion illustrates how the City Manager “reform” insulates policy from public sentiment expressed through elected representatives. I say “reform” because more than a hundred years ago the original Progressive movement was reformist, (more so than leftist, as it is today), and generally thought government should be mainly conducted by experts, such as City Managers, rather than grubby elected officials responding to uninformed public opinion. The general result today is a vast government expertise class of debatable competence. Here, the City Attorney’s opinion that the Charter insulates a year long police investigation from Councilmember Hampton’s attention sounds like a correct interpretation of the City Manager system. Turning to an example from probably the opposite political perspective, the other day the Vice Mayor stated that he, and impliedly the other elected officials, basically defer to “science” respecting COVID measures, which actually means the Pasadena Health Department, appointed by, and reporting to, the City Manager. In effect, the unelected surgeon gets to decide whether surgery on the public is performed, while the business (especially small retail business) voice is attenuated as to the broad economic effects of a probably fanciful zero-COVID goal. While the City Manager system probably increases stability short-term, it increasingly looks in need of reform to make it more responsive to public opinion in local government. Particularly, maybe more of the major policy conflicts need detailed resolution through transparent, tough votes in the elected body.