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Public Safety Commission Denounces City, Union Agreement

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By Jorge Casuso

September 3, 2021 -- Santa Monica's Public Safety Reform and Oversight Commission this week denounced a recent agreement between the City and police union, calling it a "gut punch" that "undermines" the group's work.

The agreement -- approved in closed session on August 24 -- bars the new commission from submitting written reports to the Council or making any recommendations on "police policies and practices" to the Council, police chief or city manager, according to a copy of the agreement.

It also bars the 11-member commission from "making any recommendations regarding the proposed (SMPD) budget" or make requests for information to individual officers.

The agreement, wrote Commission Chair George Brown, "amounts to a total capitulation to the POA’s demands for injunctive relief."

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

Brown called the agreement "a gut punch to civilian oversight in Santa Monica" and "an insult to the many community members who have worked hard to bring improvements to public safety over many years."

The Santa Monica Police Officers Association (SMPOA) said Brown's comments are "disheartening, false and illustrate a clear misunderstanding of public sector employee collective bargaining rights."

The union contends that despite its efforts to become involved in creating the commission, it was excluded from the process and its "legitimate concerns were dismissed," union officials wrote in a statement issued to the Lookout Friday.

In addition, the ordinance creating the oversight commission was adopted without the involvement of union officials and "established an office of inspector general with the authority to review misconduct investigations and associated disciplinary actions, review and publicly release confidential personnel file information, and make disciplinary recommendations."

As a result, the union "was then left with no choice but to seek resolution through PERB (the California Public Employment Relations Board (PERB)," POA officials wrote.

"The notion that the SMPOA’s goal is to 'kill the commission,' could not be farther from the truth," the statement said. "Our goal has and is to give the commission the perspective of a public safety professional.

"If there was an officer present on the commission, they could give fellow commissioners instant access to information, and provide immediate pertinent advice on the feasibility of policy recommendations from a public safety perspective as well as provide valuable institutional knowledge," the union wrote.

Mayor Sue Himmelrich urged all parties involved to respect each other more, avoid "big blow ups" and communicate better.

"I think everybody should be respecting everyone else more than they are doing now," she said. "None of us are our best selves now."

Himmelrich noted that the terms of the agreement are in place only through September 27 and can be renegotiated.

"I think the POA and George Brown should sit down and talk," Himmelrich said. "I don't think they want different things. They've reached a difficult standoff due to poor communications."

In his letter, Brown contends both City and SMPD officials have done little but place roadblocks since the Council unanimously voted a year ago to create the Commission ("City Council Takes Major Steps to Reform Policing," September 10, 2020).

"Significant delays were experienced in preparing the ordinance to create the Commission, and more delays were involved in getting the initial Commissioners appointed," Brown wrote.

"After that, the Commission has been under-resourced, with extremely limited staff support, and the promised Inspector General has not been hired," the letter said.

"Despite some happy talk, the interim Chief and her leadership team have made no attempt to develop a working relationship or plan to ensure the Commission’s success," Brown wrote.

"In short, the City has behaved in a manner that makes the Commission’s job difficult."

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