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Police Reform Commission Fails to Approve Report

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By Jorge Casuso

October 15, 2021 -- Santa Monica's newly formed police oversight commission failed Thursday night to approve its first report to the City Council, but the group's Chair submitted it anyway.

The draft report regarding the OIR Group's findings concerning the Police Department's response to the the May 31, 2020 protests, which included unchecked rioting and looting, was approved on a 5-4 vote, falling one vote short of the threshold needed.

Public Safety Reform and Oversight Commission (PSROC) Chair George Brown on Friday morning informed the Council that the commission was "unable to meet its obligations."

The draft report submitted by Brown -- which outlines how the commission will incorporate the consultant's findings into its ongoing work -- "reflects the Chair's intended plan for the direction of the Commission," Brown wrote in a cover letter.

"I believe it is useful to share (the draft report) with City Council," he said.

Brown blamed the failure of the Commission to reach the necessary votes on three Commissioners who voted against approval "but did not offer an alternative report."

"The two newest members of the Commission voted against the Draft Report but did not offer an alternative report or an alternative process for the Commission to meet its obligations," Brown wrote.

"Another Commissioner provided extensive comments on multiple drafts, which were accommodated, and offered additional suggestions to modify the Draft Report which were accepted as friendly amendments.

"He then voted against adoption, but did not offer an alternative report, plan, or suggestions that would lead him to approve a report."

Brown added that two Commissioners were absent, "one of whom has had several unexcused absences this year."

The 11-member commission was created in January by unanimous approval of the City Council in the wake of nationwide protests over the deaths of Black citizens at the hands of police.

Appointed by the Council, it works with the Police Department and experts to "recommend reforms to SMPD policies, practices, and handling of complaints regarding SMPD conduct," according to City officials.

But the commission is off to a rough start. Six weeks ago, Brown denounced an August 24 agreement between the City and police union, calling it a "gut punch" that "undermines" the group's work ("Public Safety Commission Denounces City, Union Agreement," September 3, 2021).

The agreement bars the commission from submitting written reports to the Council or making any recommendations on "police policies and practices" or on the proposed police budget. It also bars it from making requests for information to individual officers.

Brown said the agreement "is vastly more intrusive than was required and ties the hands of the Commission in numerous ways, both absurd and telling."

The police union said Brown's comments were "disheartening, false and illustrate a clear misunderstanding of public sector employee collective bargaining rights."

In Friday's letter to the Council, Brown summed up the Commission's purpose and values.

"Our overall goals include developing a sound, professional and independent relationship between the SMPD and the Commission, so that we may work together productively on important issues," he wrote.

"The Commission will pursue transparency, objectivity and community engagement as core principles as we pursue our work."

Brown's letter comes one day after the City announced it had hired former Mesa, Arizona police chief Ramon Batista, Jr., to head the force.

Batista resigned from his post after battling Mesa's police unions over reforms he initiated after a high profile excessive force complaint in 2018 ("Santa Monica Hires Former Mesa Police Chief Who Championed Reform," October 14, 2021).

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