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Swift Police Reform Skids to a Halt

Council fails to pass either of two police reform efforts after ballot deadline push

Published on Tuesday, August 4, 2020 | 4:48 am

[UPDATED] The Pasadena City Council’s swift drive towards police reform skidded to a halt Monday, as the Council failed to pass either of two efforts to oversee the police department.

A motion to place a new police reform charter amendment measure on the November 3 ballot was defeated 6-2, and a separate Public Safety Committee recommendation was put aside for further discussion. Only Councilmembers Victor Gordo and Vice Mayor Tyron Hampton voted for the charter amendment motion.

Following the May 25 police custody death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and weeks of local protests, the Council, through the Public Safety Committee, had moved quickly to create a proposal for a police oversight commission and an independent auditor. 

By Monday, the Council had two similar—but markedly different—options to choose from.

In the ensuing, often-testy, 4-hour discussion which dominated the 7 1/2 hour meeting, the Council first failed to pass an effort for a ballot measure that also would have established a Charter amendment for a Community Police Oversight Commission and a Council-appointed position of an Independent Police Auditor, but would additionally have given the independent police auditor far more power than would have the Tornek/Kennedy proposal.

The charter amendment would have given the independent auditor unimpeded access to all PPD personnel complaints and investigations, as well as the power to observe deliberations of PPD command staff on personnel matters including use of force reviews, administrative reviews, and internal affairs review. 

The auditor could also review all categorical uses of force by PPD personnel to assess whether the use of force should be referred for further investigation; and whether or not the investigation was complete, thorough, objective, and fair.

The independent auditor would also provide recommendations to the Chief of Police relating to pending and completed personnel investigations as well as progress in hiring, training, and promotions.

Most importantly, it would have given the auditor’s office the necessary subpoena power to accomplish its work.

Creating that power would require amending the City’s charter, and preparing a ballot measure by August 10. Hence Vice Mayor Tyron Hampton’s motion.

As a measure of the public interest, more than two hundred public comments were presented to the Council, the most in recent history, and over a hundred of them were read aloud, a process which took just over 90 minutes. 

While most of the comments favored the Tornek/Kennedy measure, all were in favor of some type of police reform. 

Just before the vote, Mayor Tornek discussed the irony of having more than twenty city commissions, but not one for the police department. 

‘They are a bedrock of the way we do business in Pasadena, and they are very diverse,” said Tornek. “They’ve had a significant impact on the way we conduct and do policy in Pasadena. And yet, we have the Police Department which is the biggest, most powerful and most expensive department, and in some ways the most impactful department, that doesn’t have a concombinant commission, a citizens group that is devoted to really paying attention to what’s happening in the police department.” 

As various Councilmembers continued to tweak the Tornek/Kennedy proposal,  including suggesting various selection methods and stipends, Tornek said that he would bring the discussion back to the full Council at a future meeting.

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