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Public Safety Committee Moves Police Oversight Proposal to Full Council

Two Committee members voice concerns about the proposal

Published on Thursday, July 23, 2020 | 4:49 am
Screenshot from police body worn camera footage taken during an incident in which an Altadena motorist Christopher Ballew suffered a bloodied face and broken leg.

Following a lengthy and sometimes testy discussion, the City Council Public Safety Committee Wednesday unanimously agreed to send a proposal for new police reform by Mayor Terry Tornek and Committee Chair John Kennedy to the City Council for a full discussion and vote.

The proposal—offered in lieu of a charter amendment ballot measure—authorizes the creation of a Community Police Oversight Commission, coupled with an Independent Police Auditor.

The item was approved but goes to the Council without an actual Committee recommendation, as both Vice Mayor Tyron Hampton and Councilmember Steve Madison voiced their opposition to the concept.

According to Mayor Tornek’s presentation, the Community Police Oversight Commission would consist of 13 members appointed by the City Council.

The Commissioners would be nominated as follows: one by each member of the City Council, including the Mayor; one by the City Manager; one by the Chief of Police; and three by community groups with specific qualifications.

The purpose of the Commission would be to review and make recommendations to the Chief of Police, City Manager, and City Council regarding the ongoing operations of the Police Department, Tornek said.

The Commission would also receive community feedback and complaints and refer the input for further review; monitor and receive reports on hiring and training; monitor and publish statistics on uses of force, complaints and outcomes; provide input on policy recommendations prior to adoption; receive reports from the Independent Police Auditor regarding critical incidents, policies, and other matters; and produce a publicly available annual report.

The Commission would not have subpoena powers, nor could it discipline officers. (Granting a commission or independent auditor subpoena powers, would require a new charter amendment, which would have to be prepared and finalized by August 10 to be placed onto  the November 3 ballot.)

Hampton was particularly vehement in his opposition to the proposal, beginning a strident criticism of it by saying, “It was really hard for me to wrap my head around the thinking here.”

Directing his criticism at Tornek and Kennedy, he said, “What in this do you believe is going to hold people accountable? This proposal falls very short of true changes.”

Hampton asked committee members whether they had ever had any encounters with the police where they were the target of the police officers’ investigations. None could say they had, while Hampton, who is Black, said he was often “afraid to put on running clothes” and run in his neighborhood, for fear of being pulled over by police.

“I’ve been in Old Pasadena, walking with my wife,” said Hampton, “and had police officers ask her if she was okay.”

Chair Kennedy, the Committee’s other Black member, defended the proposal to Hampton and offered his own experience as part of the rationale for its creation.

Kennedy said that the idea of a police commission with subpoena powers was discussed by the City Council several years before,  following the March 2012 Pasadena Police shooting death of Kendrec McDade, along with a host of other ideas, none of which gained traction.

Kennedy told Hampton, “I tried very, very hard to get the City Council to move in a direction where we could provide that additional police oversight that the community was clamoring for. I was unsuccessful.”

“Yes,” Kennedy continued, “It would be nice to have subpoena power. Yes, it would be nice to be able to have some of the requirements that you spoke of, and others have spoken of, but that’s not what we have the ability to do today. Under the charter of the City of Pasadena, it’s not possible to provide subpoena power.”

“We asked the city attorney to brief us publicly on a model that we could achieve, if subpoena power without charter reform is not readily available.”

Both Mayor Tornek and Committee Chair Kennedy invited Hampton to work directly with the City Attorney’s office to draft a charter amendment measure in time for the August 7 City Council meeting.

Tornek said he would “welcome an opportunity to discuss and debate and examine a more aggressive approach, but said he was “not equipped to draft it, because I don’t know where it starts and finishes.”

“I don’t think that this is false reform. I think this is very meaningful reform. I think it’s something that,  as the chairman points out, people have been struggling for in this city for a number of years. I agree that there is a large body of opinion that thinks that this doesn’t go nearly far enough,  it’s as far as I’m prepared to go. And I’m not defensive about that.”

Tornek added that he would welcome any work that the Vice Mayor could produce along with the City Attorney’s office and other organizations that have said the reform does not go far enough.

Councilmember Madison expressed concern that the rush to police reform might in some be politically motivated on the part of the Mayor.

“Let’s be candid,” said Madison. “We’re in a political season right now. The Mayor is running for reelection and I can’t help but think that, and I don’t attribute anything malicious or ill-willed about this, but I can’t help but think that were I sitting in his seat, that I would be impacted by that, and that politics could be entering into this proposal.”

Madison added, “This is not something that we want to get out over our skis on. We want to do this carefully with a complete deliberation and consideration from the entire community. There’s a lot of passion and deep-seated feelings — and with good reason — about this. I just don’t want to make a mistake. I want to make sure that whatever we do, is progressive, appropriate, and well-thought-out.”

Hampton responded, “What could be more progressive than taking this issue to a vote of the people?”

The full City Council will likely consider the reform proposal at its next meeting on July 27.

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