Skip to main content

We seem to be much more aware in recent years of the many police officers from across the nation being acquitted by civilian juries for menacing, threatening, harassing, and/or murdering civilians (often completely innocent or sometimes only guilty of minor infractions). In light of this recognition, there has been and continues to be strong advocacy by individuals and organizations (and rightly so) for changes in police training, procedures, and oversight in order to minimize or entirely eliminate such abuses of power. It should be indisputable that ongoing, questionable, and dangerous behavior within the police department must be addressed expeditiously, pragmatically, and effectively.

charter amendment c

In today's climate, citizens en masse are challenging the powers-that-be. They demand that questionable police practices no longer be tolerated. They insist that actions beyond-the-pale must never be rationalized, justified, defended, or deflected and that said behaviors include unconscionable conduct carried out under the Color of Blue Authority. Advocates urge that the public in general and jurors in particular be better educated regarding our legal system, thus curbing perceptions that the police are somehow always right and, therefore, with few exceptions, be given the benefit of the doubt because of extenuating circumstances that "forced them unwillingly" into harming their victims.

According to the LA Times' editorial on January 24, 2017, the City has introduced "a proposed city charter amendment that would completely overhaul police disciplinary review boards to tilt the balance in favor of cops. Hardly anyone will be coming out to vote.. ." [editorial note: off-year elections tend to depress the turn-out]. . . "--except those who are organized by the police union and its supporters to give a thumbs-up to the ballot measure."

To corroborate the Times' contention, read and listen to what others have to say: the ACLU, Black Lives Matter, any number of progressive groups, and advocates for victims of every stripe.

They are all in unison in their demands for meaningful change, not lip-service which can mislead people into thinking that the root problems will be addressed and solved by this Charter measure.

I am disturbed by the Council's audacity in indicating that any "tweaks" to Charter C would occur only after the May vote (should the measure pass).

I am disturbed by the Council's audacity in indicating that any "tweaks" to Charter C would occur only after the May vote (should the measure pass). Isn't that like putting the cart before the horse--voting on an uncertainty? In fact, City Council is currently considering creation of several subcommittees whose job will be to investigate and research the most effective way of determining the efficacy of penalties spelled out by this charter amendment (to reiterate, only after the fact). It is ironic, if not intentional, that our elected City Councilmembers have decided that the breadth of the penalties to which police officers might be subjected might only be determined after our vote--with the potential that many problems will not be corrected at all.

Yes, the perfect should never be the enemy of the good, but sometimes, the perfect is exactly what is needed. We cannot allow half-steps and thereby give tacit approval to the perpetuation and acceptance within the police system of corrupt, unscrupulous, devious, often immoral, and even deceitful practices.

The change in the City Charter would give an offending officer the right to appeal before a Board of Rights (much as it does now). At present, it is a panel made up of two high-ranking police officials and one civilian (chosen from a very narrow select pool, mostly made up of former judges and mediators) or one comprised of a three-civilian board. The officer, under Charter C, would choose between the two options.

What is an even worse problem for me is that the pool from which the civilians would be drawn would not generally represent the racial/ethnic/socio-economic population of our City. If we are to be judged by our peers, then a 2 - 1, police-to-civilian panel would be more appropriate, wouldn't it?

Scroll to Continue

Recommended Articles

Why would an officer choose a three-member civilian board rather than the panel format that is in place now? It becomes clearer when we look at the research. Statistics demonstrate that "civilians routinely go easier on officers facing discipline than their uniformed leaders do." Certainly, all-civilian juries have frequently reflected this bias. Consider George Zimmerman (a wannabe officer) in Florida in the Trayvon Martin case, the various officers and EMT personnel in Baltimore's Freddy Gray case, Eric Garner in New York, the Simi Valley officers in the Rodney King case--the list, unfortunately, goes on seemingly ad infinitum.

Jury verdicts over the last several years in particular have been shocking to most objective observers--so much so that for most of these cases, despite there being video and/or audio of the tragic incidents, the officers have been tried and acquitted or their cases have been dropped altogether and the officers in question exonerated.

We are left to ask, On what basis are these officers not made accountable for their actions? Is justice and fairness for the victims and their family and friends taken into consideration? Policing, unquestionably, is a very difficult, demanding, often frightening occupation, frequently requiring split-second decisions, and subjects officers to the ever-present possibility of injury or death. However, when "indisputable" evidence (a subjective interpretation at best) makes it clear that officers have committed blatant transgressions, these same individuals must answer to the bar of justice, just as any civilian would.

Keep in mind that the charge to each jury is to determine guilt or innocence beyond a reasonable doubt--based upon presented evidence, not a conclusion based upon perfect evidence. Too many jurors believe that somehow a guilty verdict can only be handed down if the perpetrator is caught red-handed (obviously, pictures are no longer worth a thousand words). Indeed, our juries also need to do a better job (but that is for another column).

Answering a likely question, the proposed Board of Rights hearing is not held instead of but in addition to a superior court trial for the officer under indictment. Officers who have been indicted for a felony will still have to stand before a court of justice, judged by their peers. The purpose of the Board of Rights is to make a determination of the level of their punishment within the police department: suspension, demotion, paid or unpaid leave, or dismissal altogether.

Certainly, from our City Council's point of view, it looks good that our City is voluntarily pursuing a path to handle police officer misdeeds, infractions, and major crimes, but it is questionable why this Charter amendment "had" to be placed on the May ballot before disparities and inequities could be addressed and resolved. Why the "rush to judgement"?

Should Charter C fail, I suggest that you call your City Councilmembers and ask them to reconsider the measure for a future appearance on the ballot, making sure that the wording encompasses redress of the real issues behind accusations of pervasive police brutality.

A reconsidered ballot measure would make more sense and would demonstrate more wisdom, allowing voters ample time to comprehend more thoroughly the fine points, details, and implications of what will still be a very complicated and convoluted issue.

I urge a No vote when you go to the polls this May. All officers must be held accountable for their actions--for all their actions--the good, the bad, the ugly, and the unforgiveable--but let us make certain that the procedures are objective and fair to all and are not tilted toward one or the other side of the scales of justice. We must never be guilty of being party to a low-voter turn-out. Each vote does count, and we must make ours not only count but be cast as an enlightened act. In the end, it is better to vote on what you know than guess about something about which you have little understanding. It is, therefore, incumbent upon us to be part of an informed electorate.

Cesar Chavez Memorial

Rosemary Jenkins