The labor organization that represents Santa Monica’s sworn police deputies is threatening the City with a lawsuit over what it characterizes as “the lack of commitment to public service and disinterest shown by some commissioners in fulfilling their obligations as members of the PSROC [Public Safety Reform Advisory Commission].”
According to complaints from the Santa Monica Police Officers Association (SMPOA), three members of the commission have not completed mandatory police-run training to sit on the board; officers would like to see those members removed and replaced.
“As public servants, we are deeply disappointed in this behavior and in the city staff members that have enabled it,” according to a letter SMPOA provided to the Daily Press. “Public service is a sacred duty and making a mockery of it to advance a personal agenda is an insult to the community.”
Speaking at the Tuesday, Sept. 27, Santa Monica City Council meeting, several members of the PSROC and their supporters said the SMPOA complaints were a mischaracterization of ongoing struggles for the three board members to complete the final hour of their training.
Two of the commissioners at question — Young Adult Commissioner Miranda McLaughlin-Basseri and Commissioner Angela Scott — appeared in person at the council meeting to explain why their mandatory training had not yet been completed.
McLaughlin-Basseri, a Santa Monica College student, said she missed a session due to her exam schedule and, despite initially being told she would be able to make it up, was later informed she would be removed from the commission.
According to McLaughlin-Basseri, city staff member Lisa Parsons initially provided a list of makeup dates and times, to which McLaughlin-Basseri said any would work; however, a little over a week later, Parsons reportedly notified the commissioner that she would be removed.
Scott, who is also a former arts commissioner, Public Safety Reform Advisory Committee member and member of the Santa Monica Black Agenda and Committee for Racial Justice, said that she missed training due to testing positive for COVID-19 and that, in addition, her daughter was immunocompromised with lupus among other autoimmune disorders. According to Scott and other commissioners, she was not offered ADA accommodations for her health issues, which led to her not completing the training.
The third commissioner in question, Jaime Cruz, did not attend the Tuesday meeting but, according to other commissioners who spoke, Cruz was also in need of ADA accommodations.
Speaking at the Tuesday meeting, Vice Chair George Centeno urged council members to weigh all sides of the issue.
“Like any law, there is the letter of the law and there is the spirit of the law,” Centeno said. “I know that you’ll take all of those into account. I know you’ll make the best decision for the commission.”
There was no formal decision made at the Sept. 27 meeting, but a spokesperson said in an email the week after the meeting: “I can confirm that the SMPOA requested that the commissioners who have not completed the training be removed, and that if the commissioners are not removed the SMPOA will be forced to seek alternative legal remedies.”
The friction between the police officers’ union and the police reform commission is nothing new; the history of the PSROC has been fraught since it was formed in the wake of the looting of Downtown Santa Monica in May 2020 amid nationwide Black Lives Matter protests.
A version of the commission began meeting in the summer of 2020, but by that fall Santa Monica Police Department representatives began publicly complaining about a lack of police presence on the commission, which has numbered between 11 and 15 members since it formed two years ago.
In November 2020, Santa Monica Police Officers Association (SMPOA) then-president Erika Aklufi wrote a letter requesting officers be added to the new commission.
In arguing for a seat on the oversight committee, Aklufi at the time wrote that “the members of the Santa Monica Police Officers Association know that now is the time to reimagine our ideas about Public Safety. We don’t just want to meet this moment, we want to lead it. We want our department to be a model of the kind of meaningful reform that can be achieved through community collaboration.”
SMPD officers were not added to the commission but the City subsequently agreed to allow the Police Chief and SMPOA to appoint a non-voting member to the commission.
In September 2021, the PSROC was again in the news when commissioners spoke out about their power being restricted while the City negotiated a legal claim with the SMPOA. At the time, then-Chair George Brown claimed the police union had “been trying to kill it [the oversight commission] behind the scenes for the entire time.”
To some who spoke, current demands to remove commissioners were just the latest chapter in the ongoing tense relationship.
Entrepreneur and local historian Robbie Jones, owner of Black Santa Monica Tours and Concierge, implied as much when she spoke before city council on Tuesday.
“We know what this is about. This is really, I mean — my community knows what it’s about,” Jones said. “They think — they feel — it’s about racism. They feel it’s about struggle for power and control and narcissism. I mean, how can you believe that you don’t have any faults? And how do the police police themselves? When you have a review on your job, especially to a community that you work for, they’re not allowed to say anything about what you’re doing? Come on. That is just ridiculous to me.”