Police Complaint Commission Changes Up to Voters
By Dianne Anderson
New hope for transforming the Long Beach Citizens Police Complaint Commission comes with recent city council approval to ready an initiative for the November ballot – provided the voters come out for a charter amendment change.
Depending on the will of the people, the language of the proposed initiative, and the strength of those that may come against it, the next big thing is getting it passed.
In December, a community evaluation meeting drew out a speckling of participants to comment on what they would like to see in a new police oversight model.
Community advocate Jerlene Tatum said she didn’t participate and wasn’t aware of the December 14 meeting. But she has been frustrated to see some momentum and emotional appeal waning in the community over the past year around important issues.
“Even if they are paying attention, they’re not saying what’s next?” she said.
She has watched the city council meetings and discussions, and recently talked about some of the ideas around the CPCC with a colleague. She said the report seems packed with information.
“This is a lot of information, and I asked is it good or bad? They said this is a positive move for the commission if it goes to the ballot. All the ideas are great, but it won’t be a reality unless it gets to the ballot and it passes.”
While national voting data are limited on initiatives at the city level, usually passage is difficult when pushing for city charter changes. One main criticism against police complaint processes nationwide is that often complaints are filtered through the City Manager’s office and bypass community oversight.
Input from the community evaluation of the proposed CPCC changes last December 14 expressed similar concerns.
Diana, no last names were given, questioned why the event was held during Christmastime, which prevented more community participation.
She and other participants were concerned about how the commission handles police disciplinary problems, and that Internal Affairs shouldn’t be involved in the cases. From her experience sitting on commissions in the past, it acts as a buffer to accountability.
“They can just say, well the commission recommended it, but then again it’s the Mayor who appoints all of these [commissioners], so it’s a built-in protection for Mayor and City Council, very concerning,” she said in the evaluation. “The City Manager is owned by the Mayor and Council, so he will do what they want.”
Without a drastic change of separation of police influence and the commission retaining subpoena power, she said the community would not get a fair shake. She recalled a CPCC meeting in the past that had a manager advisor from the police department.
“He basically told them what to do and that’s the decision they make. It needs to be separate,” she said. “It really should not have the influence of the POA [Peace Officers Association] because you have campaign contributions.”
If the initiative passes at the ballot, legislative changes could take up to a year and a half to implement. In the meantime, interim suggestions for the “proposed restructured model” include a police monitor with a “repurposed commission.” In that model, among other recommendations, Internal Affairs would continue to conduct all investigations.
Some proposed CPCC strategies were addressed if the Charter Amendment doesn’t pass the ballot. The commission would not review complaints and focus primarily on systemic issues within the police department rather than individual incidents. In the proposed “restructured model,” the commission would access the police monitor or his or her staff who have access to complaints, footage, review files, and all information throughout the process. They would share back to the commission.
Alanah Grant, Equity Officer with the city, said each objective outlined in the Racial Equity and Reconciliation Initiative: Initial Report, are potential actions to reconcile the gap in experiences and outcomes for the Black community, communities of color, and other marginalized groups.
“Redesigning police oversight and accountability through improved complaint and discipline practices, such as the CPCC, is a strategy to ensure police encounters do not disproportionately and negatively impact the Black community and communities of color. Neither Reconciliation, nor the CPCC Evaluation call out a specific training for the Commission at this time,” she said in an email.
The movement toward CPCC reform is part of the City of Long Beach Racial Equity and Reconciliation Initiative. It’s one year update report on immediate and short term potential actions covering a dozen key areas, including Evaluation of the Citizens’ Police Complaint Commission. The update also looked at creating a non-police civilian response team for mental health-related crises, facilitating Racial Equity 101 trainings, recruiting racial equity champions.
“The Racial Equity and Reconciliation Initiative is more than just a plan, it’s preparing us to change the way we do business as a City,” said Deputy City Manager Teresa Chandler in a prepared statement. “Serving this great City with Equity at the forefront and woven into our policies and practices is absolutely essential to ensure the best quality of life for everyone across our community.”
Among other steps to address racial inequality, the city also notes the police department received support from City Council to participate in the University of Southern California Price Safe Communities Institute’s Law Enforcement Work Inquiry System (LEWIS) Registry, a unified national database that documents all officers who were terminated or resigned due to misconduct.
Pamela Fields, whose son and nephew were killed by Long Beach police in 2013 and 2015, said she wished she had known about community evaluation input for the event. She would have participated.
Fields, who is a part-time resident of Long Beach since her son was killed, said she was never contacted by the police department regarding the complaint she had submitted.
“Nobody called me to tell me that my son was deceased, or to apologize. We found out that he was at the hospital, two security guards came out to tell me he didn’t make it. I knew the guards because I worked at that hospital,” she said.
She said that her son Donte Jordan was unarmed, and that her other son Michael was beaten by the police officer that same day.
“The day they killed Donte, my son lost it. He was screaming, walking down the street because he was hurt. They beat him up, and put him in a [psychiatric ward],” she said. “They gave me the runaround where my son’s body was taken. They gave me the runaround where my son Michael was at.”
To learn more about the CPCC Community Evaluation
To watch the December Community Evaluation meeting, see
If the Charter Amendment doesn’t pass, other recommendations can be found on pages 44-55 of the
See the CPCC Feb. 15 final evaluation report at https://bit.ly/3IwinGT
To see the 136-page racial reconciliation update, https://bit.ly/3JlBL9B