In 2015, the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations commemorated the 50th anniversary of the 1965 Watts Rebellion by beginning a process to examine the current state of policing and human relations in Los Angeles County. To do so, we held seven public hearings from 2016 through 2018 to capture community voices from each of the 5 County Supervisorial Districts, including caucuses of women of color, members of LGBTQ+ communities, and law enforcement partners. This began a long and complex trust building exercise with diverse stakeholder groups often at odds.
Our research methodology for maintaining independence while obtaining data (qualitative and quantitative) centered on a participatory process of legitimation, amassing allies and relationship brokering to build a collaborative, which extended beyond County agencies. Key stakeholders included: community members with lived experience, justice-involved individuals, advocates, nonprofit organizations, law enforcement agencies, and academic institutions. While the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the Los Angeles Police Department were primary focuses of our examination, this report also contains input from myriad LA County municipal police departments, including school police agencies. The accumulation of political/social credibility took time and remains an exercise in trust building within a highly polarized environment with a checkered history.
Our objective was to produce a report which would legitimately represent the voices and recommendations of community after publication. Completion dates were often scaled back to ensure integrity of the process. We were compelled to maintain a strict timeline for project finalization because to not have done so would have undermined our intended purpose.
Each conducted hearing focused on both the problem and promise of attaining just, equitable law enforcement for every aspect of our community. While some community advocates seek to end the profession of policing altogether, this was not the majority view expressed in the community hearings. What we did find agreement on was reallocating resources for economic investments to improve and expand social safety nets, alleviating militarized community occupation, and utilizing a culturally competent framework. These strategies can be developed and implemented collaboratively with public safety stakeholders to ensure the mechanisms currently in place begin to reflect the desired paradigm shift.
Lastly, this report’s purpose draws from the Commission’s own purpose. While we endorse long-term solutions to generational issues of disenfranchisement, our recommendations in this report reflect our own position in the County as well as our own values. We are an organization which functions as a balance, rather than an arbitrator; an organization which provides communication and process amid chaos. Having seen the historical fluctuation of power between law enforcement and community swing between oppressive, corrupt moments in which law enforcement systemically overstepped their power, to moments of community-led reform which created new levels of accountability, we believe our role is to be the restorative, healing component of that process. We create the ‘safe space’ for community members, advocate leaders, and academic representatives of those negatively impacted by prejudicial policing to convene. Our aim is to assist in devising systems of care by creating better policies and access to resources, which allow for improved safety, freedom, and, ultimately, less violence. We are determined to relieve law enforcement from duties unsuited for their skillsets, then transfer those responsibilities to the appropriate community-based service providers with the capacity to support need. At its core, the Commission is focused on human suffering. This includes both the community at large and the officers who witness acts of wrongdoing but often receive little to no healing for their own psychological wounds.
While the scope of this report is police-community relations at a patrol- and enforcement-level, we recognize that there are other elements of the criminal justice system, such as probation and judgeships, which are not directly addressed in this report. They are all interconnected gears in public safety change efforts and merit equal attention. This report, and the priorities listed herein, was informed by community perspectives of public safety, and focuses on the primary intercept points of the criminal justice system–prevention, community intervention, and law enforcement response.
The criminal justice system’s inequitable policies and practices have adversely impacted communities of color by contributing to poverty and marginalization. These same disproportionately impacted communities are paving a path forward by building coalitions committed to transforming policing, restoring public trust, and enhancing community power. Of the many recommendations made, we will do our part to build the infrastructure for stakeholder groups to advance equity, transparency, and accountability in policing. We hope the dozens of individuals, organizations, and academic partners who contributed to this report will join us in advancing that effort.
The COVID-19 pandemic and social uprisings following the killing of George Floyd are significantly altering the social landscape. COVID-19 has laid bare existing racial and social inequities. Vulnerable communities are still subject to police hostility in addition to contending with the disproportionate impacts of the pandemic. Certainly, government budgets for programs will shrink in the near term. In our communities, we already see vulnerable individuals being released from incarceration to curb the spread of disease in County jails, and the inequities of “shelter in place” and “social distancing” orders as a privilege not afforded to everyone. While the community at large is being mandated to stay at home, many of LA County’s low-income residents are unable to do so because of their need to provide financially for their families and others as essential employees. Even so, many are not receiving the personal protective gear (e.g. gloves, N95 masks) necessary to protect against infection. They are also unable to fully adhere to physical distancing orders because many are confined to living in close quarters with others due to the housing crisis. We considered calls by some to delay release of this report in light of the rapidly changing conditions. We recognize, however, that current conditions make the need for action even more urgent.
Releasing this report expresses our intention to advance needed action-oriented solutions outlined in the report’s recommendations. Our Commission recognizes that these are phase-one approaches and that further deliberations with community are required to further this agenda. We know and honor that implementation for policy success, and sustained best practices, are only achieved through collaborative effort.
Our report is a multi-perspective assessment reflecting the experiences and reform priorities of key stakeholders and Los Angeles County residents. To help consolidate these findings within a historical context, academic partners from both University of California, Los Angeles and the University of San Diego were consulted to synthesize community testimony, provide policy analysis, and share insight into national best practices for policing. Hearing recordings, stakeholder feedback and other supplemental materials collected as part of this report are available for review on the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations’ website, lahumanrelations.org.
The following 34 recommendations were compiled related to 9 strategic aims.
Strategic Aim #1 – Increase Transparency and Accountability
Enhance community participation in the processes of transparency and accountability by building systems that promote public communication of information, including the disposition of complaint and misconduct investigations.
RECOMMENDATION 1 – Expand family assistance and communication policy to prioritize trauma-informed approaches and empathy building in every interaction with the public, while also requiring officer self-identification; provide regular media briefings for high-profile investigations to keep the public at large informed of the investigatory process.
RECOMMENDATION 2 – Change federal and state laws, in addition to local law enforcement policies, to end qualified immunity and provide public access to information about police officers involved in both complaint and misconduct investigations, including their prior history and the results of investigations.
RECOMMENDATION 3 – Create quality control mechanisms to ensure ample resources are equitably allotted to law enforcement investigations of incidents involving vulnerable communities (e.g. people of color, LGBTQ+ communities, immigrants).
Strategic Aim #2 – Revise Use-of-Force Policies and Practices
Current use-of-force policies authorize practices that too often lead to serious harm and loss of life. Protocols and mechanisms should be developed that will safeguard the lives of community members and responding officers.
RECOMMENDATION 4 – Change state law to require law enforcement agencies to implement policies to exhaust all other acceptable measures, including self-identification, de-escalation techniques, and non-lethal tactics, before resorting to use-of-force.
RECOMMENDATION 5 – Assign use-of-force investigations to independent special prosecutors housed outside of law enforcement agencies and the district attorney’s office.
RECOMMENDATION 6 – Make information on use-of-force incidents and assault on officer incidents, including all relevant geographic and demographic data, publicly available and accessible; this information should also be reported at public forums such as oversight meetings, town halls, etc.
Strategic Aim #3 – Strengthen Civilian Review and Oversight
Authorize community members to oversee policing issues, providing checks and balances necessary for accountability and trust.
RECOMMENDATION 7 – Each law enforcement jurisdiction without a civilian oversight body should establish one to provide input on policies and practices, including hiring and disciplinary decisions.
RECOMMENDATION 8 – Ensure that all civilian oversight bodies have the necessary authority to perform their mission, including subpoena power and the power to censure and/or discipline.
RECOMMENDATION 9 – Ensure that membership selection processes for civilian oversight bodies include community nominations and designate seats for people who have been justice-involved and impacted family members.
RECOMMENDATION 10 – LA County Board of Supervisors should mandate and resource production of an annual report documenting and assessing policing and human relations in LA County, including monitoring the progress of implementation of this report’s recommendations in consultation with the LA County Office of the Inspector General and related bodies; this report should involve all local law enforcement jurisdictions and incorporate a legislative analysis as well as highlight data on use-of-force incidents and police stops.
Strategic Aim #4 – End Overpolicing & Underprotection of Vulnerable Communities
Both data and community perceptions confirm that our poorest and most vulnerable Angelenos have the least access to equitable law enforcement. Equity under the law is indispensable in building trust and deepening a cooperative relationship with the diversity of communities in Los Angeles County.
RECOMMENDATION 11 – Use alternatives other than arrest when responding to quality of life violations and misdemeanor offenses related to crimes of survival, such as sleeping in public spaces or in cars.
RECOMMENDATION 12 – End cooperation of local law enforcement agencies in the enforcement of federal immigration laws and adopt policies that comply with sanctuary state laws, including curbing unnecessary data sharing with federal agencies by coding non-violent crimes committed by people who are undocumented with immigrant neutral codes.
RECOMMENDATION 13 – Increase police engagement in activities unrelated to enforcement that promote ongoing dialogue to humanize all public safety stakeholders; activities can include community events, urban gardens, recreational programming, and facilitated discussions which allow for the most vulnerable populations to safely speak directly to those with policing power.
RECOMMENDATION 14 – Create advancement opportunities for officers who demonstrate high ethical standards while serving the same community for a long period of time.
RECOMMENDATION 15 – Conduct data briefing sessions between law enforcement and community partners when incidents requiring immediate action occur; the briefing sessions should include collaborative, problem-solving components to ensure the fairest and most effective deployment of resources, as well as nurture relationships of trust.
RECOMMENDATION 16 – Publicly demonstrate the use of information collected through the Racial and Identity Profiling Act by advocating for state resources to be allocated to law enforcement agencies and neutral third-party facilitators to increase data analytics capacity and public dissemination.
Strategic Aim #5 – Improve Police Training
Create training environments for recruits and officers which promote holistic portrayals of the communities they serve, including focus on preventing bias by proxy.
RECOMMENDATION 17 – LASD must end the practice of assigning new deputies only to custody duty in jails.
RECOMMENDATION 18 – Collaborate with community groups to design and facilitate police trainings.
RECOMMENDATION 19 – Mandate the training of police officers on the purposes, processes, and target populations of relevant community resources to facilitate effective referrals as alternatives to arrest.
RECOMMENDATION 20 – Mandate the training of police officers on trauma-informed approaches for interactions with the public.
RECOMMENDATION 21 – Integrate evaluation metrics for trainings to ensure intended behavior change.
RECOMMENDATION 22 – Mandate ongoing training (at least every two years) of patrol officers, dispatchers, and diversion specialists on effective ways to a) engage people with substance use disorders, b) assist people experiencing mental health challenges, c) use culturally appropriate de-escalation techniques, d) integrate ethics and integrity in their work, e) recognize and address hate crimes and incidents, and f) eliminate, or at least manage, their own implicit and explicit racial and identity biases.
Strategic Aim #6 – Transform Police Culture
Officers should be assessed holistically and deserve adequate assistance to navigate the impact of work-related traumas. Policies that place less emphasis on enforcement should be developed. Moreover, performance metrics should emphasize a) community engagement, b) trust-building, and c) an officer’s socio-emotional wellbeing.
RECOMMENDATION 23 – Create and implement policies, protocols, and performance evaluation metrics that incentivize the transformation of law enforcement from a “guardian of public order” mentality to an “officer of peace” orientation.
RECOMMENDATION 24 – Improve psychological assessments to evaluate the social and emotional intelligence of incoming recruits more effectively; additionally, when hiring, reinstating, or promoting officers, misconduct records should be considered.
RECOMMENDATION 25 – Provide ongoing psychological evaluation throughout an officer’s career arc to ensure that work-related traumas are understood and addressed; integrate the socio-emotional wellbeing of officers into performance evaluation metrics.
Strategic Aim #7 – Enhance Community-Based Alternatives to Law Enforcement
Law Enforcement is too often called upon to perform tasks better carried out by other professionals. These duties should be shifted to allow specialists, including community-based organizations, to provide nuanced and culturally appropriate services, allowing law enforcement to interact in safer ways with the public.
RECOMMENDATION 26 – Increase capacity and number of co-response teams for responding to calls involving persons experiencing homelessness, substance use disorders, and mental health challenges.
RECOMMENDATION 27 – Significantly increase funding, including reallocating law enforcement funds, for non-law enforcement community-based initiatives such as drop-in centers and community response teams that proactively address core issues of poverty, education, health, safety, and youth development.
RECOMMENDATION 28 – Create Countywide outreach campaigns to promote use of community alternatives to 911 (Emergency), including 211 (LA County), 311 (LA City), and other resource and referral hotlines.
Strategic Aim #8 – Manage Utilization of Policing Technologies
Unregulated policing technologies and algorithmic artificial intelligence, especially when utilized for predictive surveillance, promote totalitarian methods for controlling populations which disrupt the fundamental relationship of trust between law enforcement and the people they serve.
RECOMMENDATION 29 – Eliminate the use of predictive surveillance technologies because they infringe upon County residents’ privacy rights and expand law enforcement surveillance capabilities in violation of fundamental constitutional rights.
RECOMMENDATION 30 – Local governments should adopt ordinances to limit law enforcement surveillance by mandating community collaboration prior to the adoption of public safety technologies and producing a surveillance impact report to ensure they are not used for predictive surveillance purposes; if a law enforcement agency unilaterally adopts new technologies without public input, the respective local government should halt use of the technology and follow the aforementioned guidelines.
RECOMMENDATION 31 – Adopt and implement protocols to ensure timely release of footage to the public domain from body worn cameras and other surveillance technologies potentially used in prosecution.
Strategic Aim #9 – Establish a Culture of Wellbeing and Harm-Reduction in LA County
We recommend that the LA County Board of Supervisors embark on a long-term process of establishing a culture of wellbeing and harm-reduction in LA County. Using restorative practices, we should engage in healing generational trauma and balancing power to foster the justice that is essential to genuine peace and making LA County whole.
RECOMMENDATION 32 – Convene groups of relevant stakeholders to create innovative models that define public safety as a cooperative community endeavor rather than merely an assignment to enforce laws.
RECOMMENDATION 33 – Engage community stakeholders in developing a Countywide Community Wellbeing Vision and Rights Declaration that will be incorporated into the County charter, prominently displayed in County facilities, and disseminated via a public awareness campaign.
RECOMMENDATION 34 – Establish restorative community circles throughout LA County to envision and apply new paradigms of community wellbeing.
This report details the project that produced these recommendations and prepares for the next stage in which we will foster collaboration with stakeholders to advocate for implementation to redefine policing throughout the County.
Patricia A. Griffin, Kirk Heilburn, Edward P. Mulvey, David DeMatteo, and Carol A. Schubert, “The Sequential Intercept Model and Criminal Justice: Promoting Community Alternatives for Individuals with Serious Mental Illness,” (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015).