How Does This Keep Happening?



The most recent edition of Radiolab focuses on the nouveau fascination with nihilism, or at least the extreme form of pessimism exhibited by people across traditional political lines as we enter the waining years of the Obama era in this county. From the legal standpoint we can also see a developing genre in popular books finally recognizing the inherent meaningless of our criminal justice system. Works like Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow”, Greenwald’s “With Liberty and Justice for Some”, and Taibbi’s “The Divide” all highlight the now inherent (and incredibly harsh) biases within our penal system at large.

The continuing theme behind all of these works is the problem of consistency, and the recognition that a certain segment of the government is behaving without any semblance of accountability. What makes the lack of a policy-based response regarding police overreach is how broadly appealing this cause for concern is (and perhaps how undeniable it is when faced with the evidence) . This is a truly “bipartisan” matter, with progressives and liberals voicing their dismay over the discriminatory impact of police overreach, and conservatives identifying with the inherent unease with “big government” (just look at this remarkable post from CNN’s disgrace Erick Erickson).

But almost month removed from the Ferguson uprising, nothing of note is changing. Locally the grand jury case is getting almost intentionally buried, and Dana Milbank identifies one horrifying reason why this might be the case:

One might give [St. Louis County prosecutor] McCulloch the benefit of the doubt, if not for his background. His father was a police officer killed in a shootout with a black suspect, and several of his family members are, or were, police officers. His 23-year record on the job reveals scant interest in prosecuting such cases. During his tenure, there have been at least a dozen fatal shootings by police in his jurisdiction (the roughly 90 municipalities in the county other than St. Louis itself), and probably many more than that, but McCulloch’s office has not prosecuted a single police shooting in all those years. At least four times he presented evidence to a grand jury but — wouldn’t you know it? — didn’t get an indictment.

Locally here in Long Beach, a community far more diverse that St. Louis County, but with it’s own rather horrible recent history of officer involved shootings, we’ve recently elected a new progressive Mayor and passed a new budget. However at this time it seems highly unlikely that either actual structural changes to the police force, or the mechanisms necessary to ensure true accountability will be implemented anytime soon. As Retired LAPD Deputy Chief Stephen Downing wrote in the LA Register, our City Charter and budget have produced massive procedural blindspots that reduce the public’s necessary ability to properly regulate our police force:

The city of Long Beach is of such a size and complexity that supervision of the police department and authority over the police disciplinary process by the city manager are outdated, ineffective and subject to the many conflicts that arise with respect to the city manager’s relationship with the city attorney, police union, liability concerns, campaign contributions and the like.

What the [Mayor’s] Transition Team should have recommended in addition to status quo governance measures is fundamental reform to the charter that will bring the city and its Police Department out of the Dark Ages. At the very least, the Transition Team should have recommended establishment of a blue-ribbon committee to study and recommend changes to the city charter that will accomplish – at minimum – the following reforms:

• The authority, powers and duties of the police department should be outlined in the city charter and the chief of police given disciplinary authority over all members of the department subject to civil service or court appeal.

• The chief of police should be made subordinate to a board of five citizen police commissioners, selected from residents, who serve as the policy head of the Police Department.

• The mayor, subject to City Council ratification, should appoint the board of police commissioners.

• The board of police commissioners should have hire-and-fire authority for an executive director and an inspector general, each provided with the necessary authorities and personnel to investigate, audit and make publicly transparent recommendations to the board related to all police functions, with special emphasis on use-of-force and shooting policy.

• The chief of police should be hired from a list of three candidates selected by the police commission and forwarded to the mayor. The mayor must select from the list of three, subject to City Council confirmation.

• The chief of police should be hired under contract for a five-year period, subject to renewal by the police commission for one additional five-year period and no longer.

• The board of police commissioners should have the authority to terminate the chief of police for cause, subject to mayoral and City Council approval.

• The City Council should have the power to remove the chief of police for cause by a two-thirds vote.

None of these reforms can in anyway be thought of a “pie-in-the-sky” hippy bullshit. Neither are they anti-union, “fuck the public sector workforce into the 1880’s” policy recommendations. As the grandson of a Boston Police officer (one that benefited directly from reforms brought on by this long forgotten Police strike), and a citizen of this wonderful city, I see no legitimate reason why these ideas are not being discussed on the 14th Floor. This is a basic discussion of instilling accountability for all- a concept that no one can deny in terms of its legitimacy and necessity.


About stefanbc

I am an attorney who works mainly in criminal defense, child welfare, and medical marijuana advocacy. I live in Long Beach with my wife and four pets. View all posts by stefanbc

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