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Ridley-Thomas Voices Concerns on Police Commission

November 21, 1998|MATT LAIT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Los Angeles City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas on Friday added his voice to the growing chorus of concern about the Police Commission's performance as the LAPD's civilian overseer.

Specifically, he said the abrupt resignation of the commission's inspector general last week and the panel's mixed messages about the watchdog's independence "pose a threat to both the fundamental spirit and intent" of the police reforms recommended by the Christopher Commission.

In a letter to its president, Edith Perez, Ridley-Thomas said the Police Commission needs to take decisive action to dispel any notion that key reforms implemented in the wake of the 1991 beating of Rodney G. King are being dismissed.

"While the intent of police reform was and still is clear, I believe the implementation of police reform is at risk," Ridley-Thomas said.

He called on the commission to support changes in the City Charter that would strengthen the independence of the inspector general. He also said the board should postpone any search for a new inspector general until it is clear that the post's occupant reports directly to the Police Commission and not to its executive director, as the City Charter now provides.

When the search for a new inspector general is conducted, Ridley-Thomas said, the commission should establish a screening panel, possibly with former members of the Christopher Commission and civil rights leaders, to review the candidates.

Inspector General Katherine Mader resigned under pressure from her commission bosses, saying the board had so undercut her position that it had become a fraud. The commission's executive director said that Mader's work was poor and that the panel was "proceeding down a path" to firing her.

Since Mader's resignation, a number of police reformers and civil rights activists have criticized the Police Commission, accusing its members of failing to conduct proper civilian oversight of the department. Several council members, including Laura Chick, Jackie Goldberg and Mike Feuer, have expressed their concerns over the commission's role in Mader's resignation.

"Concrete changes in commission style and process are necessary, and they must begin at the top, or new leadership is in order," Feuer wrote this week in an article published on The Times' Op-Ed page.

Close advisors to Mayor Richard Riordan--who appoints police commissioners--have also indicated that they were troubled by the way the inspector general's ouster was handled.

Commissioner Dean Hansell said he welcomes any dialogue about the commission's performance, the inspector general and civilian oversight.

"I think it's great that there is all this interest," Hansell said. "These are important issues. We value their comments."

Perez, who has come under the most scrutiny for her role in Mader's resignation, also said she welcomes comments from the council and others.

"It's important that concerns are expressed," she said. "We are committed to oversight, the strongest oversight possible."

Perez, who had not yet seen Ridley-Thomas' letter, added that the commission has already begun establishing a screening committee to help select a new watchdog. And she said the inspector general has always been allowed to report directly to the commission, despite the current charter arrangement.

Ridley-Thomas said significant progress on police reform has been made since King's beating. He said civilian oversight has been strengthened, the inspector general position was created and "a new chief with strong leadership ability and broad respect from both the public and private sectors has raised public confidence in the LAPD."

All those positive developments, however, "do not mitigate the sinking feeling I have about the status of our reform efforts," Ridley-Thomas said.

"Important questions remain," he added. "Do procedures exist to ensure the independence of the inspector general? Can the business of a civilian commission be sufficiently protected against department influence when commission members depend on department staff to carry out their work? Does this foster effective oversight?

"I am afraid that current developments indicate that the answer is no to all of the above," he concluded. "I strongly believe we must hasten to arrest this impending crisis before all credibility is lost."

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