Monday, December 3, 2001
Hahn Calls for Police Discipline to Be Handled by Panel Outside Department
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The current police discipline system must be tossed aside in favor of one that moves the disciplinary power outside of the department, Mayor James Hahn wrote Friday in a letter to the Police Commission.
“It is my view that the current Board of Rights system is flawed and negatively impacts morale in the Los Angeles Police Department,” Hahn wrote.
Hahn urged the commission to get rid of the three-member panel, made up of two captains and one public member, who currently dispense departmental discipline, and adopt a new appeals system that would give a citizen panel the final say in disciplining officers.
“They system we have today is so unfair and so capricious,” Los Angeles Police Protective League Vice President Bob Baker said.
Baker argued that the current system, which puts disciplinary power in the hands of two captains who are directly responsible to the chief, is unfair because those officers are reluctant to go against the wishes of the chief.
“If the chief sends someone to the Board of Rights, it’s because he wants to terminate them,” Baker said. “It’s undue influence.”
Under Hahn’s proposed system, the police chief would, under oversight of the Police Commission, impose a penalty on the officer. The disciplined or discharged officer could appeal the penalty to a single hearing officer.
The current system requires that three hearing officers be at each hearing, something Hahn said contributes to the inefficiency of the system because those officers are pulled away from other duties.
Under Hahn’s system, the hearings would be reviewed by the citizen’s board and that panel would make the final disciplinary decision.
Baker said he isn’t nervous about putting disciplinary power into the hands of a non-law enforcement body.
“It’s been our experience that citizens are much harder on serious misconduct, but on the minor stuff they are more forgiving,” Baker said, referring to the citizen member on the Board of Rights.
“When cops do something wrong, they expect to get punished,” Baker said. “But most of the time it’s an error of the head, not the heart.”
They are human and they make minor mistakes, but their careers shouldn’t be over because of that.”
Baker said that while the police union wants officers who commit serious offenses to be punished, it does not want to see officers who commit minor offenses to be punished excessively.
“Our officers are in fear of doing something small that could end their careers,” Baker said.
The new discipline appeals system would allow the police chief to dole out punishment at the beginning of the disciplinary process, even to the point of removing the officer from duty during his or her appeal, but that decision could be overruled by the citizens’ panel.
Any unwarranted termination by the chief would be corrected by the board, Baker said.
“Right now the chief controls the whole process,” Baker said. “An officer may be foolishly terminated, but the civil service board will see through that.”
A spokesman for the LAPD said the department will work with Hahn’s office and the Police Commission to come up with the best system.
“We’re going to do everything we can to accomplish the best system for the men and women of this department and the community,” Lt. Horace Frank said.
“Ultimately there’s not going to be a foolproof system,” Frank said. “But we’re going to all work together.”
Hahn urged the commission to approve the change quickly to allow enough time for the it to appear on the Nov. 5, 2002 ballot. Because it makes changes to the City Charter, voters must approve the new disciplinary system before it can be put in place.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company