The city’s Police Commission is gearing up for a series of monthly discussions about the Burbank Police Department’s policies, though some commissioners also emphasized caution in responding to residents’ calls for reform.
The commission largely used Tuesday’s meeting to develop ideas for discussion at future meetings. Many of the topics were brought up by residents who called in during the public comment period.
For instance, some residents who called the commission asked the group to review the way the BPD responds to situations involving a person with a mental illness, suggesting that sending mental health professionals would be a more appropriate response then sending an armed officer.
Some also wanted the BPD, which publishes its use-of-force policy and annual complaints statistics on its website, to list a breakdown of arrest records by race. Others pushed for funding to be diverted from the department to other city agencies.
“I have only ever had positive experiences with BPD and I am grateful for the work you do,” said Katie Ward in a public comment made to commissioners by phone. “I also understand, however, that I am afforded privilege by virtue of my white skin that not everyone is afforded, so I am mindful that my experience isn’t the only one to consider as a member of this community.”
The Police Commission, which advises the City Council, cannot make policy decisions on its own — a fact commissioners emphasized during their Tuesday meeting.
“We are not equipped to impose discipline,” Commissioner Robert Cohen said. “The city doesn’t set us up that way. We wouldn’t even want to do that unless we were indemnified. We’re not that kind of commission.”
The council will hold a joint meeting with the commission on July 14 to review a report from the Office of Independent Review, a company that conducts an annual audit of the BPD.
The commission has been meeting monthly rather than quarterly since June, following nationwide and local protests held after George Floyd died in Minneapolis while in police custody, an incident in which an officer knelt on Floyd’s neck for several minutes.
When some Burbank residents called on the city to inspect its own Police Department’s behavior, the Police Commission was instructed to compile recommendations.
Police Chief Scott LaChasse brought several of his own to the table, suggesting the commission review the BPD’s use-of-force policy, disciplinary procedures and community engagement, among other subjects.
He also expressed specific interest in some of the requests from residents, saying the department would try to meet with a representative from Black Lives Matter and present the commission with race and ethnicity data regarding people stopped by officers.
The goal, LaChasse told commissioners, is to make recommendations to the City Council by the end of the year. He also said California legislation regarding police practices could also affect their discussions.
Amy Vest, the commission’s chair, said during Tuesday’s meeting that a large part of the advisory group’s role is to educate the public about the BPD’s policies, warning residents not to fall for misinformation.
Other members of the group took issue with what they saw as the outcry over Floyd’s death in Minneapolis being applied to Burbank, with Cohen pushing back against worries some residents had raised.
“I appreciate everybody’s concerns … but honestly, I don’t see those issues in Burbank,” he said during the meeting. “Systemic racism in the Police Department? I don’t think so.”
Nidal Kobaissi, the commission’s vice chair, also struck a note of caution in how the group responded to calls for reform, saying that it should also show what the BPD does right.
“Yes, we should be looking into all of these things, yes, we should be reviewing all of these policies,” he told commissioners. “But we need to stay focused on Burbank.
“What happened in Minneapolis and other places, those areas need to hold their folks accountable… Let’s hold Burbank PD accountable for their actions, let’s hold Burbank PD accountable for their inactions, for the problems that we have. I think that’s what everybody wants.”