The City Council had a two-part conversation this morning on the proposed police accountability legislation, passing an “omnibus” amendment that incorporated consensus views from their last discussion, and beginning discussion of the complex budget issues.
Amy Tsai of Council Central Staff began by walking the Council members through an amendment that made dozens of changes, most of which were small and either very technical or purely administrative to reorganize and clean up the bill. There were some substantive changes however:
- The definition of the OPA, the OIG, and the CPC were rewritten to more simply communicate what each group does and how it does it.
- The OPA Director ad Inspector General cannot have been formerly employed by SPD.
- At least 25% of the members of any search committee to hire a new OPA Director or Inspector General must be CPC commissioners. This was a major point of discussion last time, as Council member Herbold raised the concern that under the original bill a search committee needed only a single CPC member, but that would be miniscule representation if a 15-member committee was formed. The question still remained as to who picks the specific CPC commissioners to serve of the search committee, though there seemed to be a fair amount of agreement that the CPC should pick its own representatives.
- The size of the CPC is increased from 15 members to 21. Seven are appointed by the City Council, seven by the Mayor, and seven by the CPC itself, including representatives from the public defender community, the civil liberties community, the police officers union (SPOG), and the police supervisors union (SPMA). Notably, the CPC lobbied for these changes: the increased size due to concerns over the workload imposed on the CPC by the legislation, and the SPOG and SPMA representatives because of its past positive experience having representatives from those groups. You may recall that the requirement to have police representatives on the CPC raised eyebrows in previous Council discussions, and community members voiced concerns about having the police’s oversight group contain some of the very people they are intended to oversee, but the CPC was adamant on the importance of the context and perspective they bring, and the consent decree with the U.S. DOJ actually specifies that the CPC must contain police representation.
- An amendment proposed by Council member Juarez was proposed, wherein the CPC must assign one CPC member to each district. Each Commissioner representing a Council district shall live, work, or have significant professional or civic ties in that district; demonstrate a deep understanding of neighborhood issues; actively engage the people within the Council district on a regular basis; and regularly report back to CPC on community issues on law enforcement in the Council district. This puts an interesting constraint on selection on one third of the CPC members, but it doesn’t specify who is responsible for fulfilling this requirement across the three bodies that each appoint one third of the CPC commissioners (the Mayor, the City Council, and the CPC itself).
- In total, the proposed legislation has 33 written reporting requirements. Some of those are routine monthly reports, but it’s still a ton. The amendment considered today consolidated that a bit, and there is ongoing work to further streamline the reporting requirements.
The amendment passed unanimously with votes from Council members Gonzalez, Burgess, Johnson, and Harrell. The bill is still a long way from being done, but that was a solid chunk of progress.
They then moved on to the new issues of how to structure the budget process for the three departments: OPA, OIG, and CPC. The core issue is how to maintain these groups’ autonomy to do proper oversight, free from political pressure by whomever approves their budgets. There are a few potential options for how to achieve this:
- Set each group’s budget as a fixed percentage of either the city budget as a whole or the SPD budget.
- Use the standard budgeting process (where each group’s budget rolls up into the SPD budget, then into the Mayor’s, and then is amended and approved by the City Council), but guarantee a minimum of a fixed percentage of the city or SPD budget.
- Use the standard budgeting process, but give the head of each of the three groups the autonomy to lobby for their budget directly to the Mayor and City Council, bypassing the Chief of Police.
None of these approaches is perfect. As Burgess and O’Brien pointed out, anything the current City Council does to guarantee a specific percentage can be changed just as easily by a future City Council, so the “guarantee” is fairly meaningless. Burgess argued that the best political protection for these three groups is to have the ability to speak directly to the City Council to lobby for resources, and in doing a thorough analysis of the resources really needed. O’Brien agreed in part, but pointed out that the heads of each group are still subject to political pressure from whoever has the power to fire or re-appoint them. An OPA director may have on paper the authority to speak directly to the Council, but may not feel safe doing so in opposition to the Mayor’s authority knowing that the Mayor might decide not to reappoint them. Gonzalez noted that point, but also pointed out that structurally they are trying to guard against that by having different appointing authorities for the OPA Director (the Mayor), the Inspector General (the City Council), and the CPC Executive Director (the CPC), so no political authority can exert pressure across the entire oversight structure. Still, O’Brien suggested that the best political protection for the oversight groups is earning the public’s trust, and that he wants to set up a structure that makes them successful in having that public trust.
Overall, the Council seemed to be leaning in favor of option 3, but they all conceded that it was a very complex issue. They also agreed that the key to the entire exercise will be setting the initial baseline resourcing level, regardless of the scheme for defining future years’ budgets. Even if they choose to use a percentage-based model, they need to do a deep analysis of the resources needed to choose the right percentage. The CPC has already been working on some estimates of staffing needs, but there is more work to do.
Harrell stated his belief that there should be measurements used to determine the success of the overall effort, so that they know if their investments are paying off. That in itself is complicated, he admitted, because as they achieve success and the culture and practices of SPD change, some parts of the oversight effort might be scaled back â€“ e.g. if the number of “use of force” incidents continues to drop, the amount of effort to properly investigate them will go down. At the same time, there are other parts of the oversight effort that will continue to need robust investments for the long term. So Harrell is looking for the suite of measurements that over the long term provide guidance on how to budget for police oversight. Gonzalez agreed with that, noting that both New Orleans and Los Angeles were released from their consent decrees but soon after found themselves back under a new one because their reforms hadn’t stuck, so building and budgeting for the long-term is important. Burgess also agreed, pointing out that “it’s paying attention to the little things when there’s not a crisis that prevents you from entering the next crisis.”
The Council will continue to deliberate on the budget issues. The next meeting on the police accountability legislation is scheduled for May 5. Two areas still remaining for discussion are discipline and investigation processes.