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Guest Opinion | Bill Paparian: Police Reform More than Merely Civilian Oversight

Published on Monday, July 6, 2020 | 6:29 am
Bill Paparian

As an Attorney in Pasadena for 40 years and as a Mayor and Council member for 12 years I have seen both the good and the bad with the Pasadena Police Department. During my tenure as an elected public official I fought hard to ensure public safety was our city’s top priority.

And as an Attorney I have defended victims of Pasadena Police misconduct and have not been shy about criticizing our Department’s shortcomings. I am a strong supporter of civilian oversight.

As the City Council struggles to address civilian oversight of our Police Department, missing from the current conversation is how to make Pasadena Police Department (PPD) the model it once was for other agencies to follow.

Under the current leadership of John Perez and the command staff that he has assembled for our community has an opportunity to restore PPD’s former greatness. Chief Perez has  demonstrated the insight, instinct, and moral compass required to do so. As our community moves forward, here’s what needs to be done…

There was a time when our salary for Police Officers and Police Sergeants was in the upper 25 percent of comparable cities. We now barely break 50%.  If we want the best and the brightest, then we need to be prepared to pay for it.

California law sets the minimum standards for a peace officer at only being a high school graduate and passing a psychological evaluation that requires a minimum of two written assessments.  We need to raise this bar.

Studies have shown that there are fewer citizen complaints about college-educated officers because they are less likely to use force. College-educated officers are also less likely to be terminated for misconduct.  Officers who graduate from college are 40 percent less likely to use force and 30 percent less likely to fire their weapons in the line of duty.

Pasadena needs to require that all police applicants meet the minimum requirement of graduation college.

We also need to require a pre-employment personality test that measures conscientiousness, emotional stability, agreeableness, and integrity.

Once selected to work for our department, new officers are sent to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Academy, Orange County Sheriff’s Department Academy, or Rio Hondo College for training, depending on available slots. After graduation, new officers begin a probationary period with PPD. Training then continues internally and under the leadership of Chief Perez has included immersive training in the use of force and de-escalation.

But there are severe budgetary limitations that need to be addressed.

The comparison of how much required training is mandated for police and fire departments is a contrasting difference:  firefighters devote 20 percent of their workday to daily training while police officers receive a lowly 20 percent within a single quarterly or sometimes as little as twice a year.  Pasadena Firefighters spend 4-6 hours in training per 24 hour shift.

Just as we want our officers to be properly compensated for the difficult work that they are called upon to perform so too do we want them to be the most highly trained for their safety as well as our own.

Establishing a daily training schedule for PPD will be difficult, as calls for service (CFS) per day are well over 300.  Maintaining a balance with training and daily work commitments needs to be addressed by the City Council.

These budgetary constraints also have an impact on PPD firearms training at the indoor shooting facility at the Eaton Canyon Range named after the late range master Jack Preston.  Every October our officers shoot for qualification and those that distinguish themselves with a score of 280 out of a possible 300 points receive a small “Blue Max” badge to wear on their uniform.

But knowing when to shoot a firearm is equally if not more important than knowing how.  This is precisely why the current digital scenario screen with laser simulated weapons needs to be upgraded to include implicit bias training and communications scenario training.

As you read this somewhere a young man or woman is hearing the call to serve our nation and our community.  Some will answer that call by looking to our military and others will consider law enforcement.  And when they answer that call let us make that sure that they consider the Pasadena Police Department.

Police departments and cities across our nation face the difficult task of reforming a broken system. Under the leadership of Chief Perez, the Pasadena Police Department has an opportunity to rise to the challenge and become the model it once was. I believe that Pasadena’s City Council will rise to that challenge as well.

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