I request that the recording secretary include the remarks that I am about to give in the official minutes of this meeting. I speak as one member of the Committee and not with the authority of the Public Safety Committee as a whole.
I raise the following with full appreciation and respect for the many pressing issues facing our City. As elected officials, we are entrusted with and must prioritize the health, safety, and welfare of our constituents. Accordingly, we must exert our collective responsibility to ensure that our police department operates in a manner that convinces all residents that they will be protected and respected.
Much of our society generally and our legal system specifically rests on a foundation of symbolic and substantive fairness. For example, would any of us feel that we would receive a fair trial if the judge was the brother-in-law of our opponent? Analogously, baseball utilizes umpires and soccer and basketball utilize referees to ensure third-party impartiality. Having a third-party arbiter does not call into question the integrity of a plaintiff, a defendant or either sports teams. Instead, it ensures and conveys to all involved and all observing that fairness and justice will prevail. Yet despite numerous contrary precedents throughout our society, we are expected to accept that our police department is able to serve as its own referee.
This is not someone else’s problem. Community trust or lack thereof impacts everyone in Pasadena. When communities or populations do not trust the police, they become much less likely to report criminal conduct. That leaves our streets, our neighborhoods, and our entire city less safe.
We have a responsibility to our constituents who elected us to stand for justice and fair dealing. That constituent responsibility is not at the expense or detriment of any city staffers, including police officers. An additional and compelling guiding principle is simply doing the right thing. We do so because we are called not to arbitrarily side with anyone, but compelled to side with what is right.
The City has an appropriate, well-established practice regarding reports and informed decision-making at the Council as well as at the Committee-level. This practice requires providing written reports that give decision makers adequate information to execute their responsibilities. That is simply meeting the most basic responsibility of staff work. Completed Staff work is more than just a term of art, it is a respectful, serious research that hopefully leads to logical conclusions upon which a Committee or the Council can query further, provide concurrence or return it to staff for additional research and review. But to provide this Committee with nothing to review prior to the meeting is in my view lazy, disrespectful, and potentially precedent-setting. That is unacceptable and does not allow members of this Committee to review Completed Staff work and arrive here prepared to do the People’s Business: asking relevant questions and giving staff “feedforward” and direction. I remind staff that the Public Safety Committee, when it meets, usually does so for only 75 minutes, which is not a lot of time for discussion on matters of such serious import as we have before us this afternoon.
Our Council Agenda packets include written reports that provide context and specific facts that allow us to make the informed decisions that our constituents expect and deserve. The Finance Committee, chaired by a member of this Committee, expects and receives written reports, so why is there a difference when it comes to the Public Safety Committee? Is the public safety of our City not as important as the financial health of our City? Of course, it is and that is why I gladly serve on the Finance Committee with the Mayor and my other colleagues who comprise it.
Despite the precedent and a reasonable, common-sense standard, we are now asked to accept a different standard – an oral report – to outline the steps that the city manager and the police chief intend to engage in to restore, improve and advance community/police relations. The unfortunate and totally unacceptable excuse for this new and unprecedented standard is that this is a “first step.” Well, that explanation, in my view, just does not pass the smell test!
Therefore, to that, I simply say NO. It does a tremendous disservice to this City to frame this as a false choice between receiving a written report and delaying needed progress. An oral report could be viewed by some as a not so clever attempt to avoid accountability; delay until interest is lost or distracted and most importantly an attempt to handcuff the decision makers and render them unable to execute their responsibilities due to lack of information.
When I found out that the city manager had privately reviewed the police department generated tapes of the Christopher Ballew altercation and the Police Chief had initially unilaterally concluded that the police officers acted within policy, I was stunned. Whose interests are served when decisions are made in a figurative dark, back room a place lacking transparency? When a resident generated video surfaced 2 months later, suddenly and belatedly a need for an investigation emerged. Who is refereeing the referee? Have we devolved to a level that doing the right thing requires irrefutable, video proof from a civilian/resident? In the absence of such third-party proof, will self-interest and preservation move one to overlook unfavorable facts? It is important to remind ourselves that California is one of only three states, along with Delaware and New York that has a law specifically shielding police misconduct records from the public.
To those who might be inclined to think or say we cannot put a price on human rights or doing the right thing, I counter that we have. In the aggregate, the City has or will pay millions of dollars to settle cases involving the Pasadena Police Department. These collective million-dollar payouts occur against a backdrop of our City facing a major fiscal crisis as we attempt to balance our budget and plan forever increasing pension obligations. In the face of this fiscal crisis, we cannot act as if we are okay with million-dollar payouts to the alleged victims of alleged police brutality. Have we entered a parallel universe in which we accept million-dollar payouts as a “cost of doing business?” That dollar and moral cost would not be acceptable in the private sector and cannot be in the public sector – particularly in our smart city. Are we oblivious to the irony of recurring “one-time events?”
By charter and mission, the Public Safety Committee is inadequate to impose the much-needed oversight that our residents demand and our strapped budget begs. The Public Safety Committee is limited by The Charter to inquire and recommend only.
Where does this all end? An appropriate, pop culture definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. We fail to carry out our elected responsibility of imposing appropriate, objective oversight of our police department and yet we somehow expect different or improved results. Our constituents deserve better than that fantasy.
Accountability is a hallmark of any well-run organization. After the $6 million embezzlement scandal, residents demanded and the Council rose to the challenge to impose accountability. The then city manager, Michael Beck, made personnel changes to help in his view “clear the air” and implemented necessary reforms to avoid a repeat catastrophe. Yet, in the face of alleged repeated police misconduct, we are unwilling to impose accountability. We act as if we expect a magical transformation spontaneously to occur and no members of the police department will violate the public trust and break the law. We know that is not true, no matter how some may protest to the contrary. We only need look to last week’s indictment of a respected and revered lieutenant of the Pasadena Police Department who is accused of basically illegal arms sales, yes “gun running.” At the time the lieutenant was placed on administrative leave with pay, 2 cargo vans loaded with firearms had just been removed from the lieutenant’s personal residence, serving as the trusted adjutant to Chief of Police Phillip Sanchez. It is irrefutable that Police Chief Sanchez signed several waivers for the lieutenant in question to purchase certain guns without having to undergo the customary wait time imposed on civilians and most law enforcement personnel. And now, the Police Chief is tasked with the administrative and possibly local criminal investigation of one of its own. By this misguided logic, we could close all jails and prisons, simply give criminals a stern lecture and naively hope they will stop violating the law. What is the measure of accountability for a police officer or a police department?
In light of all of the above, I recommend the following steps are taken:
1. That, before the April 2nd meeting of the Public Safety Committee, the city manager provide this Committee with a written report on the actions it plans to take to improve police-community relations and restore trust lost;
2. That a respected independent agency undertake the administrative and local criminal review of the Pasadena lieutenant indicted by the U.S. Attorney last Friday;
3. That the indictment or charging documents concerning the referenced lieutenant be placed on the Police and City website without delay; and
4. That the City Manager makes recommendations to the Public Safety Committee and or City Council on how to increase civilian oversight of the Police Department using the model adopted by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. On November 1, 2016, the County issued a press release. The first paragraph reads as follows: “A new Civilian Oversight Commission, aimed at boosting transparency and increasing trust between communities and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, was established today by the Board of Supervisors.” The Executive Director of that Commission is attorney Brian Williams, a former assistant city manager and current resident of our wonderful city. Charter Reform is necessary, and we may have an opportunity to place a measure on the ballot in June to enact changes that would allow for similar oversight that exist today with Pasadena’s newly enlightened sister agency, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
In closing, I hope my Public Safety Colleagues, and the Council as a whole, will give my thoughts the most serious consideration for appropriate action! Thank you for your time.