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Is This What We Call Civilian Oversight?

Conflicts of interest abound on the Police Commission board.

Some of the commissioners listen to a member of the public give comment at the December 19th 2017 Los Angeles Police Commission meeting. Photo by Adam Smith

In reading Kate Mather’s LA Times article “LAPD Take Another Step Toward Deploying Drones In Controversial Yearlong Test,” from January 9th, I think it’s worth pointing out that the civilian-led Los Angeles Police Commission right now functions more as a rubber-stamp approval body for the LAPD than it does as a body representative of the public at-large.

Among other things, the Mayor Garcetti-appointed commissioners are tasked with approving weekly reports by the LAPD, approving budget requests, and determining whether or not to recommend charges against officers in cases of officer-involved shootings, a statistic that the LAPD regularly leads all US police departments in.

Held on Tuesdays at LAPD headquarters at 9:30am, these meetings are often inaccessible to Los Angeles residents most affected by the very policies on which this civilian commission regularly vote. At this past Tuesday’s Police Commission meeting, commission president Steve Soboroff led the unanimous vote to approve the donation of $31,500 from the nonprofit Los Angeles Police Foundation to be used to purchase drones for the 1-year pilot program, despite the presence of community organizers and activists showing up again to express their concerns.

President Soboroff sits on the board of the Weingart Foundation, which provides grants to a number of Los Angeles area nonprofits, including the Los Angeles Police Foundation. How can residents of Los Angeles take seriously a board tasked with civilian oversight when it’s president sits on the board of a foundation that gives money to a group that exists solely to provide funds and equipment unencumbered by city budget oversight to the Los Angeles Police Department? I think it’s high time for Mayor Garcetti to appoint police commissioners that truly represent the communities the LAPD is tasked with serving, otherwise we need to stop pretending that this board is one of “civilian” oversight.

White People 4 Black Lives (WP4BL) is a white anti-racist collective and activist project of the Alliance of White Anti-Racists Everywhere (AWARE-LA) and operates within a national network of white anti-racists called Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ). WP4BL is rooted in acting in solidarity with Black Lives Matter: Los Angeles. For more information, visit www.awarela.org