LAPD Chief Gets Five More Years, LA’s Child Dependency Courts Reopened, an Uncommon Public Defense Approach, and Michael BrownAugust 13th, 2014 by Taylor Walker
LAPD CHIEF CHARLIE BECK RECEIVES SECOND TERM FROM POLICE COMMISSION
On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Police Commission voted 4-1 in favor of giving Chief Charlie Beck a second five-year term. Commissioner Robert Saltzman was the lone dissenter, calling for increased transparency and more evenhanded discipline of officers.
Here’s a clip from police commission president Steve Soboroff’s statement regarding Beck’s reappointment:
This process lasted approximately three months and included numerous interviews with Chief Beck. During those interviews, my fellow Commissioners and I drilled down on every issue facing the Los Angeles Police Department. No subject was off-limits, and I can tell you, at times, the questioning was intense. In the end, we knew we had to be thoroughly confident that Chief Beck is not a good leader for the Los Angeles Police Department, but a great leader.
How did we judge Chief Beck? We looked at everything at LAPD. Chief Beck is the chief executive officer at LAPD, and at the end of the day, he is responsible for this large law enforcement agency. We looked at his ability to keep this City safe and reduce crime, his ability lead approximately 12,600 sworn and civilian employees effectively, and his ability to plan for the future.
Chief Beck demonstrated to the majority of the Commission and proved during the last five years that he is a leader who understands law enforcement and the unique needs of every part of this City. Yes, law enforcement is law enforcement, but Mar Vista is not El Sereno, and Athens Park is not Canoga Park. Chief Beck understands that better than anyone…and he knows what works in each unique community. He is the right person for this job, even though he recognizes that improvements must be made.
In his column, LA Times’ Steve Lopez said that while Chief Beck was deserving of a second term, he must improve transparency and consistency moving forward. Here’s how it opens:
Did LAPD Chief Charlie Beck deserve the new five-year contract he got Tuesday morning?
Did he gracefully sprint across the finish line with hands held high?
No, he stumbled and staggered, with a series of dubious disciplinary moves topped off by a Times expose Sunday on inaccurate crime statistics.
Appropriately, along with the many hard-earned pats on the back given to him by commissioners, Beck got a well-deserved kick in the pants. And so his second term won’t be a victory lap, but a test of whether he can become the leader both the department and the city need him to be.
The four commissioners who voted in support of Beck — Steve Soboroff, Paula Madison, Sandra Figueroa-Villa and Kathleen Kim — touched on areas where improvement is needed, but spent most of their time praising the chief for declining crime rates and the building of community ties and trust.
And Beck does deserve a lot of credit. But it’s worth noting that all four of those commissioners were appointed by Mayor Eric Garcetti, who has been a vocal supporter of Beck. And so you are left wondering precisely how independent Garcetti’s appointees really are, no matter their claims or his.
The lone vote against a second term came from Rob Saltzman, the longest-serving commissioner and the only one to have been on the job through Beck’s entire first five-year term as chief. Saltzman was appointed by former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and on Tuesday — with Beck seated several feet away — he offered anything but a ringing endorsement of the chief.
Saltzman said that despite Beck’s many extraordinary achievements, he had decided the LAPD would be better served “with new executive leadership.”
The most important area where “significant improvement is needed,” Saltzman said, is “in ensuring fairness and consistency in discipline and transparency and respect for civilian oversight.”
JUDGE NASH THANKFULLY REOPENS CHILD CUSTODY COURT PROCEEDINGS TO PUBLIC SCRUTINY
Judge Michael Nash, the presiding judge of LA county’s juvenile court, issued an order to reopen child dependency court proceedings to the press, five months after a California appeals court struck down Nash’s earlier order to open the courts.
The new order requires judicial officers to identify those present in the courtroom. Attorneys then have the option of objecting to media presence, if there’s reasonable likelihood that press access will harm a child.
Metropolitan News-Enterprise’s Kenneth Ofgang has the story. Here’s a clip:
Under the new order, each judicial officer will, at the outset of a hearing, determine who is present in the courtroom and which of such persons have a mandatory statutory right to be present. If any person lacks such a right, her or she will be required to state why they are there, and it will then be up to the court to determine whether “that person has a direct and legitimate interest in the particular case or the work of the court and, based on the record before it, there is no reasonable likelihood that access will be harmful to the child’s best interests.”
Under Friday’s order, counsel for any party may object to presence of the media or members of the public, before or after the court makes the required findings regarding such presence.
“The party objecting shall produce evidence that harm to the child or family is reasonably likely to occur because access is allowed,” the order provides. “The person seeking access shall have the burden of persuading the Court that there is no reasonable likelihood that access will be harmful to the child’s best interests.”
Factors to be considered in determining whether to allow access include the age of the child, the nature of the allegations, and the likely impact on the child and the family, “consistent with the overriding purpose of the proceeding to protect the child and advance his or best interests.”
After balancing the interests involved, the order says, a person who lacks a mandatory right to attend may be excluded only if the person lacks “a legitimate interest in the case of the work or the court,” or if the person’s legitimate interest in viewing the proceedings is outweighed by the other interests addressed by the order, based on the evidence and arguments presented.
FLORIDA PUBLIC DEFENDERS OFFICE’S UNIQUE APPROACH: HIRING FORMER COPS TO INVESTIGATE POLICE AND PROSECUTORIAL ERRORS
A public defender’s office in Florida is employing former police officers to investigate things like complaints against prosecutors and cops for racial profiling and bad police work—things that public defenders with hundreds of cases could never look into. These ex-cops back up overloaded public defenders to give indigent defendants a fairer chance in the criminal justice system.
Jason Fagone has the story for Mother Jones. Here are some clips:
During his 26 years as a cop, [Allen E.] Smith thought he saw things clearly. There were good guys and there were bad guys, and he dealt with some of the worst. But then something changed.
In 1997, Smith retired from the police force. He needed a job to help cover his two daughters’ college expenses, so he signed up as an investigator in the Broward County Public Defender’s Office. He had little idea that he’d end up a key player in a bold experiment in criminal justice, one that aims to give tens of thousands of people who can’t afford lawyers a fighting chance in a system stacked against them. It’s an effort that suggests new ways for court-appointed attorneys to get at the truth, despite their insane caseloads. And a big part of it is getting former cops to police the police.
At the public defender’s office, Smith supervises 11 other investigators, 9 of whom are retired officers like him. Every day, they deploy technology, public records, and good old-fashioned legwork to dig into the sorts of complaints against cops and prosecutors that they used to brush off. In the process, they’re not only turning up evidence of sloppy police work and racial profiling. They’re also finding what they never would have guessed in their previous careers—that some of the sketchy characters they cross paths with are actually innocent.
When Smith arrived at the public defender’s office in 1997, he wasn’t even sure he could do the job. A few of his cop buddies had asked why he had gone over to the “other side.” He didn’t know what to tell them. The investigative staff was smaller then and included a former Miami Dolphins cheerleader, a former Dolphins running back, a city commissioner, and a judge’s wife. The public defender, a Democratic Party stalwart who’d been in office since 1976, liked to call himself “the Boss Man.” He later came under fire for asking his employees to pony up $100 each to help his daughter’s boyfriend join the Hooters pro golf tour.
Smith kept his head down and started working cases. One involved a young woman charged with writing a counterfeit check in the amount of $4,200. She told a convoluted tale. The gist was that she had recently become unemployed and had gotten the check via FedEx from a company that was offering her a job and had asked her to cash it. As a cop, Smith would have pegged her as a grifter and never given her story a second thought. But he started digging. He traced the FedEx envelope back to a retired fire chief, the kind of guy he was inclined to trust; the chief’s wife explained that her shipping account had been hacked, and fraudsters had used it to send more than 200 bad checks to job seekers all over the country.
It wasn’t the most dramatic case, but at the moment when Smith realized his client was a victim, not a perpetrator, he experienced “a complete change of life.” The ideal of innocent until proven guilty had always struck him as a scam invented by defense attorneys. “Now, on the desk in front of me, lay the key to setting free a totally innocent person,” he later wrote in Florida Defender magazine. “It is hard to describe my exact feelings at that point.” He persuaded prosecutors to drop the charges.
KILLING MICHAEL BROWN
On Saturday afternoon in Ferguson, MO, a police officer shot and killed an unarmed black 18-year-old who was running away with his hands in the air. There are still many questions yet unanswered regarding the circumstances of Michael Brown’s death. Ferguson residents have been rioting, and the FBI has launched a civil rights inquiry into the death of Brown, who was a well-liked teenager two weeks away from starting college.
The New Yorker’s Amy Davidson has an essay on the issue that’s worth reading. Here are some clips:
Michael Brown didn’t die in the dark. He was eighteen years old, walking down a street in Ferguson, Missouri, from his apartment to his grandmother’s, at 2:15 on a bright Saturday afternoon. He was, for a young man, exactly where he should be—among other things, days away from his first college classes. A policeman stopped him; it’s not clear why. People in the neighborhood have told reporters that they remember what happened next as a series of movements: the officer, it seemed to them, trying to put Brown into a car; Brown running with his hands in the air; the policeman shooting; Brown falling. The next morning, Jon Belmar, the police chief of St. Louis County, which covers Ferguson, was asked, at a press conference, how many times Brown had been shot. Belmar said that he wasn’t sure: “more than just a couple of times, but not much more.” When counting bullets, “just” and “not much more” are odd words to choose.
How does the choreography of Michael Brown’s afternoon form a story that makes sense? It cannot, or must not, be easier for the police to shoot at an eighteen-year-old who is running—away from the officer, not toward him—with his empty hands showing, than to chase him, drive after him, do anything other than kill him. Teen-agers may not always be prudent; there is no death penalty for that, or shouldn’t be. Michael Brown was black and tall; was it his body that the police officer thought was dangerous enough? Perhaps it was enough for the officer that he lived on a certain block in a certain neighborhood; shooting down the street, after all, exhibits a certain lack of concern about anyone else who might be walking by. That sort of calculus raises questions about an entire community’s rights. One way or the other, this happens too often to young men who look like Brown, or like Trayvon Martin, or, as President Obama once put it, like a son he might have had.