onica’s first civilian police oversight body is still accepting applications from community members who wish to promote the best practices in community-oriented policing, but local police officers are taking issue with their exclusion from the newfound commission.
A 15-member Public Safety Reform Advisory Committee originally suggested that sworn and civilian Santa Monica Police Department employees be barred from serving on the Public Safety Reform and Oversight Commission, but City Council was hesitant to single out local officers when it discussed the matter in January.
Instead, Council agreed to ban all city employees from serving as commissioners shortly before Interim City Manager Lane Dilg described the commission as a product of a monthslong community engagement process that brought a dedicated and historically diverse group of locals together.
However, members of the Santa Monica Police Officers Association feel they have been excluded from the process despite repeated attempts to “lead the moment, not just follow,” POA President Gerardo Leyva said in a recent interview where he discussed the union’s willingness to head to court to resolve the matter.
Former POA president Erika Aklufi first expressed concerns about officers’ lack of involvement in the creation of a police oversight commission in a letter addressed to Interim City Manager Lane Dilg last fall.
Like Leyva, Aklufi said the organization did not take issue with the creation of a police oversight commission but rather the specific expulsion of public safety personnel in its conception.
In the months since Aklufi’s first letter, POA leaders have sent many more, according to Leyva, who said Thursday that engagement between the city manager’s office and himself has been virtually nonexistent to this point.
“We just want to tell our community that we have empathy for some of the things that happened in law enforcement and most of us feel equally as hurt and disappointed by some of the actions taken by police officers,” Leyva said. “And we feel that we have something to offer to the formation of this commission because we have first-hand knowledge on how we do things in Santa Monica and the best practices that have worked and haven’t worked. And that’s not even touching on the fact that we feel we are the community since many of us, like myself, were born and raised in Santa Monica.”
The union president compared the creation of the Commission without SMPD’s perspective to a resident building a house for themselves while having no input on what’s going to be constructed.
“It doesn’t it doesn’t make any sense if you’re looking at changing some of our practices without letting us explain the things that have worked or how we got there. We can provide some historical perspective and we have institutional knowledge on how things have been done and why we’ve done certain things,” Leyva said. “So we feel, at a minimum, we should have an active officer on the board, but we’d be okay with a retiree.”
However, law enforcement has changed so much in recent years that a former officer may not have the necessary insight, Leyva added as he detailed why the union feels the law is on their side.
Last Wednesday, SMPOA counsel informed city leaders in a letter that the organization is legally entitled to have a member on the commission in accordance with the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act, which governs labor management relations and seeks to promote full communication between public agencies and their employees.
City officials could not be reached for comment on the matter, but Leyva said he received a letter this month that said city leaders did not feel the formation of the commission constituted a breach of the act.
While he shared his disappointment in hearing the City was still reluctant to let the SMPOA participate in the conversation, Leyva said he doesn’t see a need to head to court if the Commission includes at least one member from the SMPD.
“We don’t want to go the legal route and we definitely don’t want to control the conversation or the direction of the committee, but we do feel we have a right to be part of the conversation,” Leyva said. “It’d only be one vote. I don’t understand the fear of having inclusivity.”