Last week, Los Angeles voters passed a measure widely condemned by Black Lives Matter, the American Civil Liberties Union and other activist groups in favor of police accountability and civilian oversight. It increases citizen oversight of the Los Angeles Police Department by allowing for the creation of an all-civilian disciplinary review board. Activists assert that the law, called Charter Amendment C, will actually end up favoring officers accused of wrongdoing, reports Governing. “This was a deceptive measure,” says Peter Bibring of the ACLU of Southern California. “Most people thought this was about putting civilians in a position to hold officers accountable, and that’s not what it is.”
For one thing, the measure allows officers accused of misconduct to choose whether their case will be reviewed by the partial- or all-civilian board. Critics warn that giving cops the option to choose means they’ll go before whichever board is most likely to be more lenient. Localities all over the country are wrestling with how best to formulate disciplinary review boards and how civilians might fit into that equation. Of the 18,000 police departments, only the large ones have any form of oversight, and only about 200 take the form of civilian review boards, says Samuel Walker of the University of Nebraska Omaha, author of Police Accountability: The Role of Citizen Oversight. In Los Angeles, opponents of the new law argue that it’s rife with problems, some of which are particular to the city and some of which are common among civilian boards generally.