The Burbank Police Commission voted this week to advise the City Council that special police initiatives be retained and that new commissioners not be required to be of a certain ethnicity, gender or occupation.
The decisions made on Wednesday came after several monthly meetings in which commission members heard presentations from the Police Department on a variety of topics, including use-of-force policy and the BPD’s Mental Health Evaluation Team program. The council charged the advisory board with discussing potential recommendations after the death of George Floyd sparked nationwide protests and calls for police reform.
The commission’s recommendations did not include any potential major changes to police policy. Commissioners voted unanimously to advise keeping the MHET program and school resource officers — increasing funding for those programs if possible — and voted 4-1 against suggesting an increase to its own number of members.
In several instances on Tuesday, commission members noted that their power is merely advisory; the panel does not make policies.
“We don’t have the power to do what some of these folks would like us to do,” said Commissioner Robert Cohen.
Several residents who have spoken during public comment portions of council and commission meetings have asked that officials remove police officers from schools, “decouple” officers from Los Angeles County clinicians in the MHET program, require the BPD to make more data publicly available and seek to place more people of color on the commission. Other residents have gone further, calling on the council to review or decrease the BPD’s budget.
None of those requests were echoed in the commission’s recommendations, though members did vote to request that the council provide funding for a BPD system upgrade needed to ensure that the department is prepared to comply with a state mandate requiring police departments to collect stop data by race and ethnicity. Burbank must begin collecting that data, regarding instances in which officers stop motorists, in 2022 and report it starting in 2023.
Commissioner Mike Chapman suggested that the panel ask the council to fund the system upgrade early, potentially allowing the BPD to get a head start on data collection.
But police Chief Scott LaChasse cautioned that, because his department is preparing to meet a federal data collection mandate next year, it may not be able to meet the state requirement early.
“We would like to go up sooner, but I really don’t know if it’s possible,” he said. “We have to take one major project at a time.”
YES ON PROGRAMS
Before the vote of support for the school resource officer and MHET programs, commission chair Nidal Kobaissi said that the panel had reached out to parents, teachers, staff and students in the local school district and that he hadn’t heard of any negative experiences regarding Burbank’s SRO program. He noted that some respondents had replied asking for some reforms of the program, but added many of those emails had nearly the same wording and content.
Vice chair Amy Vest agreed, saying that the program helped humanize officers, whom she saw as a crucial line of defense against school shootings.
“It’s all well and fine with therapists and psychologists to deal with certain problems, but those particular people are not going to be able to do anything if there’s an active shooter at a school,” she added.
The commission decided to recommend keeping — if not expanding — the MHET program without decoupling units, noting that clinicians had reported preferring to have an officer accompany them.
Cohen also proposed the commission recommend that the City Council dedicate one day a year to the appreciation of police officers, a move that was supported unanimously by his peers.
“I think the people of this department have earned it,” he said. “They put up with a lot of silliness, they do their very best to do a good job. We’re blessed to have such a good department.”
NO ON INCREASING SIZE
While the council had asked the commission for its input on its current size and makeup, the consensus of the latter group was that no recommendation should be provided, with Vest expressing some frustration that the council had decreased the commission’s size from seven members to five.
“They saw fit to make that decision without our opinion,” she said. “I think they’re fit to make that decision again without our opinion.”
Chapman was the lone voice that expressed interest in advising that the group’s membership be enlarged, saying he believed it would allow the council, which appoints commissioners, to help make the commission better reflect the diversity of its community.
Some residents complained earlier this year that the commission is not diverse enough, with a few saying that commissioners were dismissive of concerns about systemic racism in Burbank.
Kobaissi argued that the city shouldn’t hire people based on their ethnicity or gender, calling the process a form of segregation. He noted that, when he told someone he was considering not reapplying for the commission, the response was that he should stay because he is the only person of color on the panel.
“How insulting is it to tell someone that their only value is they’re a person of color?” he said.
Ultimately, Chapman’s proposal in recommending an increase in the commission’s size was voted down 4-1. A vote to suggest to the council that it “appoint the best-qualified person” regardless of ethnicity, gender or profession was approved 4-0, with Chapman abstaining.
The Police Commission is expected to have a joint meeting with the City Council to review the recommendations on Feb. 9.