Several members of the Public Safety Reform & Oversight Commission are upset by City Council’s decision to temporarily restrict the Commission’s abilities while the City negotiates a pending unfair labor practice claim with the Police Officers Association.
From the perspective of many, but not all, Commissioners, the temporary restrictions are unnecessary, severely handicap their ability to function and signify an underlying opposition of SMPD to civilian oversight.
“It’s overall an attempt to basically gut the Commission and prevent it from operating,” said Commission Chair George Brown in a Sept. 2 meeting. “It’s clear that the Santa Monica police union opposes civilian oversight. They’ve been trying to kill it behind the scenes for the entire time.”
The Santa Monica Police Officers Association and the City reject this notion and maintain that the freeze on certain activities of the Commission is a temporary measure solely intended to allow the two groups to settle their dispute amicably without engaging in protracted litigation.
The agreement was approved by Council during an Aug. 24 closed session on the recommendation of Interim City Attorney George Cardona. It is currently set to expire on Sept. 27, with the possibility of extension if negotiations are not complete by then and both parties agree to the extension.
The agreement temporarily bars the Commission from several actions including making recommendations to the Police Chief, City Manager or City Council regarding SMPD policies and practices; the availability of SMPD disciplinary records and personnel files; or SMPD’s proposed budget.
“This is not intended to stop the important work of the Commission, which may continue its ongoing review of police policies and procedures and remains free to provide to the City Council its work plan for consolidating its consideration of policing issues in light of its review of the OIR Group Report and the police department’s response to that report,” said a City Spokesperson.
The pending negotiations between the City and the SMPOA concern an unfair labor practice charge SMPOA filed with the California Public Relations Board regarding the manner in which the Oversight Commission was formed and the powers it was given.
The SMPOA is specifically upset with the exclusion of officers from serving on the Commission and alleges that they repeatedly raised this concern to former Interim City Manager Lane Dilg, who dismissed the issue prior to the Commission’s formation.
“Our goal has and is to give the Commission the perspective of a public safety professional,” said an SMPOA representative in a statement issued on Sept. 3. “They could give fellow Commissioners instant access to information, and provide immediate pertinent advice on the feasibility of policy recommendations from a public safety perspective as well as provide valuable institutional knowledge.”
Commission Chair George Brown believes the SMPOA does not support reform and civilian oversight, referencing his experience serving alongside SMPD officers in the Commission’s temporary predecessor, the Public Safety Reform Advisory Committee, as evidence.
“POA members participated in the work of an advisory committee last year, and, in my opinion, worked from the outset to undermine any attempts at reform or oversight,” said Brown in an Aug. 30 letter to City Council. “I continue to marvel at how the POA and SMPD leadership claim to be proud of their purported progressive best-in-class policing, yet work so hard to prevent anyone from actually looking inside to see what is really happening.”
In this letter Brown raised several complaints against the City and SMPD, including a delay in establishing the Commission, lack of Commission resources, slow hiring of a promised Inspector General and difficulties procuring information from SMPD.
In response to Brown’s letter SMPOA issued a statement that said, “Brown’s comments on this matter are disheartening, false and illustrate a clear misunderstanding of public sector employee collective bargaining rights.”
Several Commissioners spoke in support of Brown’s position during a Sept. 2 meeting, including Commissioners Samantha Mota, Derek Devermont and Angela Scott.
“How are we supposed to even move forward within such restriction, and how are we expected to press the system when the system is so resistant?” said Scott.
Commissioner George Centeno disagrees with Brown’s claims and sent a letter to Council on Sept. 3 expressing his support for Council’s decision to accept the agreement temporarily freezing many of the Commissions’ activities. Centeno is a former SMPD officer and the retired Chief of Police at Los Angeles World Airports.
“From my perspective, the Police Department has been very transparent in sharing what the current policies and practices have been, where improvement needs to be made, and collaboratively working with the Commission to make those changes,” said Centeno. “I believe the City Attorney’s Office and the City’s position will prevail and the Commission can again continue the important work ahead.”