Public Safety Commission Looks to Finalize Police Reform Recommendations

Prompted by national and local debate over the efficacy of existing policies, the meeting will consist of discussions over proposed adoptions and updates based on information gathered from several groups

FILE PHOTO: Eric Fabbro | News | South Pasadena Police Department personnel

The South Pasadena Public Safety Commission on Monday Oct. 19 will work to reach consensus on long list of police reform recommendations including tweaks to the police department’s use-of-force policy.

Other areas to be discussed include review of hiring, training and supervision processes; review of police complaints and disciplinary records; transparency; “no knock” warrants and others, as well as a separate list of cost-cutting changes aimed at preserving the city’s ability to honor cost-of-living increases called for under the current police association contract.

The PSC will not consider broader police budget issues as that is the purview of the Finance Commission.

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PSC Chair Jeremy Ding told the South Pasadenan News the commission wants to wrap up the recommendations in time for the City Council to consider final adoption before December. One recommendation he highlighted is for the release of body camera footage no later than 10 days after an incident, which is sooner than the 45 days under a state law approved in 2018.

The draft was assembled by the PSC’s Subcommittee on Police Reform, which includes Ding and Commissioners Ed Connelly and Scot Lam.

The Subcommittee is offering only minor adjustments to the updates the police department is mulling in response to the high profile 8 Can’t Wait reform measures promoted by the national Campaign Zero initiative. The biggest is that police officers should be allowed to shoot at moving vehicles, but only under extreme circumstances when there is no other alternative to avert a threat such as someone using a vehicle as a weapon.

The subcommittee said the police department’s current use-of-force manual is “inconsistent” because one section says officers should not shoot at a car simply to disable it, while another says they shouldn’t shoot to disable it or to stop a suspect who does not pose a threat of death.

The Subcommittee also recommends banning both the carotid control hold and choke hold restraints, except as an alternative to deadly force. But SPPD prohibited use of the carotid control hold last July and in any case, both techniques were outlawed Sept. 30 when Governor Newsom signed AB 1196, the new use-of-force act.

The existing SPPD manual discusses the use of electronic control devices (lasers) in the outdated context of a “use of force continuum,” the Subcommittee also noted, rather than in the “situational use of force” model that provides officers a protocol for when to use certain weapons or tactics as long as such use is “objectively reasonable.”

As for the other 8 Can’t Wait issues — requiring de-escalation; requiring warnings before shooting; requiring the exhaustion of all alternatives before shooting; setting a duty to intervene when an officer is using excessive force; and requiring comprehensive reporting of use-of-force incidents — the Subcommittee is recommending acceptance of the policy updates submitted by SPPD.

Subcommittee members said the draft is informed by interaction with members of the community, “police interest groups” such a South Pasadena Youth for Police Reform and Care First South Pasadena, police employees and former commission members with law enforcement background. It also worked with the police union, the police chief and deputy chief, and City Council’s own subcommittee on police reform which is composed of Council members Richard Schneider and Diana Mahmud and which is also not expected to submit its own list of recommendations.

The SPPD’s proposals are based largely on a policy manual published by Lexipol, a private company that offers a standard set of policies used by a large number of California law enforcement agencies. Two of Lexipol’s founders are former police officers who became lawyers. Lexipol also offers in-depth policy white papers on topics such as overreacting to public pressure. Its policy manual provisions do not always align with the National Consensus issued by law enforcement leadership groups, and have been criticized as overly aggressive. One of its provisions is at issue in a lawsuit filed July 31 by the ACLU against the Pomona Police Department

Ding acknowledged Lexipol’s goal is “to allow as much as possible and not restrict as much possible” police options for use of force. He said the PSC Subcommittee sought to minimize the degree of local variation in use-of-force policies while maximizing those backed by state and federal provisions and case law.

Donnelly noted the subcommittee looked at the liability implications of moving from a Lexipol policy to a “local agency” policy. He said he was encouraged by how close the city’s use-of-force policies already are to the 8 Can’t Wait recommendations.

The rate at which South Pasadena pays for its annual subscription to Lexipol’s policy manual updates has gone up an average of 7 percent annually in each of the past five years; in August, the city paid $9,021 for its 2020-21 renewal.

Also Monday, the PSC is set to hear an update from City Attorney Teresa Highsmith on proposed changes to the PSC’s charter. Last month, the PSC said Highsmith’s draft was not sufficiently reflective of the PSC’s preferences. Ding told the South Pasadenan News a broader consensus on the charter revisions has since been reached among the city attorney and the PSC and Council subcommittees.

Commissioner Alan Ehrlich said he’d asked the mayor and city manager to agendize a discussion on Chief Joe Ortiz’s recent authorization of a prayer service on city property by a controversial group, a matter for which many citizens have called for an investigation. But Ding said no such item is on the agenda because it is regarded as a personnel matter that falls outside the PSC’s purview.



Ben Tansey
Ben Tansey is a journalist and author. He grew up in the South Bay and is a graduate of Evergreen State College. He worked in Washington State as a reporter in a rural timber community and for many years as an editor for a Western electric energy policy publication based in Seattle.