Committee to decide if consultant should check into civilian oversight of police
By André Coleman 09/04/2013
* See below for corrected date
On the heels of investigations clearing several local police officers of nearly a dozen charges of misconduct and wrongdoing, a spokesperson for the local ACLU said the Pasadena Police Department needs to be overseen by a board of citizens with broad legal powers.
“I think there needs to be great independence,” said ACLU Pasadena-Foothill Chapter spokesperson Kris Ockerhauser. “The body will need the funds to operate vigorously and they will need subpoena power.”
Ockerhauser will be in attendance on Sept. 16 when the City Council’s Public Safety Committee votes on a motion by recently elected Councilman John Kennedy — who once served as deputy chief of administrative services for the Richmond, Va.., police department — to hire an outside consultant to study how civilian oversight commissions function in other cities.
“Certainly the ACLU supports and advocates for civilian oversight, and with the track record of the Police Department, and with the current scandals going on, we need vigorous rigorous oversight,” Ockerhauser said.
Police Chief Phillip Sanchez — much like his predecessor, former Chief and onetime City Manager Bernard K. Melekian — said he is against the formation of such a board. Without providing details, Sanchez said a recent meeting of the committee that there have been 11 citizen complaints against Pasadena police officers so far this year. An additional seven complaints have been made internally by officers with the department. Of the 18 complaints, only one involved the use of force.
According to Sanchez, of the 2,931 arrests made from January to Aug. 7, only 18 — less than 1 percent — involved the use of force. That number is down from the last two years, with 53 incidents in 2012 and 52 incidents in 2011 involving the use of force. The department, the chief noted, averages less than one officer-involved shooting a year. Eighty-nine unspecified complaints were filed against Pasadena officers in 2012, according to Sanchez. Of those, 26 were sustained and resulted in 14 written warnings, 10 suspensions and the termination of two sworn officers.
“That does not suggest the Pasadena Police Department is rogue or out of control. What it suggests is there is a firm foundation for accountability,” Sanchez told committee members.
Last week, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the Pasadena Police Department cleared Officer Kevin Okamoto and Detectives Keith Gomez and William Broghamer of claims that either individually or together attempted to influence witness testimony, inappropriately used an informant and failed to provide a copy of a search warrant when asked. Other claims against the officers included harassment, unlawful arrest, submission of a misleading police report and inappropriate recording a jailhouse conversation.
Results of the investigation were released to the public, but the department did not list the officers by name. The vague and in part confusing report on the probes that was released to the press found only that “an officer” made an inappropriate comment and that “an officer” failed to submit discovery material before a trial began. “One officer,” the report, which was reviewed prior to its release by attorneys for the city and the Pasadena Police Officers Association, remains under investigation for allegedly threatening a witness.
The department is also waiting for the results of an independent probe being conducted by the Office of Independent Review, which is investigating the officer-involved shooting death of Kendrec McDade, 19, who was shot and killed on March 24, 2012, after 911 caller Oscar Carrillo Gonzales told police that he had been robbed at gunpoint by McDade and a juvenile at a taco stand in Northwest Pasadena. The officers— Matthew Griffin and Jeffrey Newlen — have been cleared by an internal review and a separate probe by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.
In 2010, the department disbanded its Disciplinary Review and Use of Force Review boards — both with citizens and police department employees as members — after the City Attorney’s Office concluded that the department could not protect privacy laws protecting the police officers and adhere to state open meeting laws allowing residents to attend the meetings. Among other things, the panels served as advisory panels to the police chief on officer misconduct matters.
Since that time, the council’s Public Safety Committee — made up of Kennedy, Vice Mayor Jacque Robinson and Council members Gene Masuda and Steve Madison — remains the Police Department’s lone oversight committee.
“In recent years, we have had this discussion at the Public Safety and City Council levels a couple of times,” said Robinson, who chairs the council committee. “Council member Kennedy is new member of the committee and there is always room for discussion. I don’t know the parameters of his proposal, but we have received information from staff and community about models in other communities before. To date, there has been no appetite for altering the current level of oversight that the City Council provides through the public safety committee.”
This is not the first time there have been calls for stronger civilian oversight of the Police Department. In 1992, following the Los Angeles Riots, a number of community leaders proposed the creation of citizens’ panel to oversee department operations. That did not happen. Instead, then-Police Chief Jerry Oliver started a citizens’ police academy, a 12-week class designed to provide participants with an inside look at police operations while promoting the principles of community policing. Kennedy worked under Oliver after the former chief took over as the head of the Richmond police department in 1995.
In 2005, Melekian, when he was chief in Pasadena, opposed calls for more civilian oversight in the aftermath of the officer-involved deaths of Maurice Clark and LaMont Robinson.
The call for more accountability came up again in 2009 after officers shot and killed Leroy Barnes after Barnes exited the backseat of a vehicle with a weapon during a traffic stop.
Kennedy said his motion would help the Public Safety Committee and local stakeholders by providing more facts about civilian oversight.
“The objective is for the Public Safety Committee and the public to be educated about the pros of cons of civilian participation in the oversight of Police Department in other jurisdictions and what that could look like in Pasadena,” Kennedy told the Weekly. “At the very least, we want a study that is objectively produced by a third party that shares the pros and cons and benefits and negatives of the structure. Then one can make a decision on the value of such an organization in Pasadena.”
* Due to incorrect information provided to the newspaper, the print version of this story contains the wrong date of the Public Safety Committee’s next meeting. The correct date of the meeting is Sept. 16.