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Chair Resigns From Police Commission

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By Jorge Casuso

February 16, 2022 -- Police Commission Chair George Brown on Tuesday abruptly resigned from the deeply divided body he led with a strong and sometimes independent hand.

Under Brown's leadership, the 11-member Public Safety Reform and Oversight Commission (PSROC) created by the City Council in January 2021 has been torn by internal conflicts that have prevented it from meeting key deadlines.

When one of its two youth members resigned after declining to be vaccinated under a City mandate that took effect in October, the Commission reached a 5 to 5 stalemate.

In his letter, Brown, a retired partner with the law firm Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP, cited the "obstacles" that inhibited progress and called on the City to "reimagine City governance and operations."

"As you know, we have spent the past 9 months working to get the Commission organized, obtain the information and resources needed to function properly, and to overcome a series of obstacles that inhibited our ability to make progress towards the goals identified by City Council in establishing the Commission," Brown wrote.

"I urge you to consider how the entire City can work together to co-create public safety."

To accomplish this, "one thing we should all consider is whether we may need to reimagine City governance and operations as part of reimagining public safety."

The Commission -- formed to recommend reforms to SMPD policies, practices and the handling of complaints about conduct -- became torn over the role law enforcement would play.

In August, the Commission, led by Brown, denounced an agreement between the City and police union that barred the commission from submitting written reports to the Council or making recommendations to top City officials on "police policies and practices."

In a strongly worded letter, Brown denounced the agreement approved in closed session on August 24, calling it a "gut punch" that "undermines" the group's work ("Public Safety Commission Denounces City, Union Agreement," September 3, 2021).

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

The rift between Brown and some of his fellow commissioners widened in October when he sent the Council a draft of the group's first major report without its approval ("Rift Widens on Police Reform Commission," October 18, 2021).

The report -- which outlined how the Commission would incorporate a consultant's findings on the May 31, 2020 riots -- "reflects the Chair's intended plan for the direction of the Commission," Brown wrote in a cover letter.

Commissioner Joe Palazzolo responded to Brown's move by advising the Council to "disregard" the report Brown submitted because it reflected his own point of view and failed to win majority approval.

"The Commission was not intended to represent one person's view which is the reason Chair Brown's draft was not approved," Palazzolo wrote.

Councilmember Phil Brock said he hopes Brown's resignation helps to bring the Commission closer together.

"While he had great ideas," Brock said, "he had mired that commission in controversy, and they couldn't make real progress while they were divided.

"As smart and creative as he was, it also appeared that he was divisive," Brock said. "My hope is that now they will start working together."

In his resignation letter to the Council, Brown -- who co-authored the "New Era of Public Safety" report for the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights" -- said he would like to continue weighing in.

"I expect to continue to be involved in our community and to work towards reimagining public safety and making policing better for everyone," he wrote.

"I would be happy to discuss the topic with each of you in the coming months."

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