Grievance Theater Night at the L.A. Police Commission

Pity the man who is so unfortunate as to have to appear before the Los Angeles Police Commission. First, he must endure the trip to downtown Los Angeles, an hour’s drive or maybe much more from some of the city’s outlying communities. Then he must find a place to park, no easy task amid all the construction and street closures that are often added to the customary gridlock around the civic center. If he manages to find a spot on the street, he must be mindful of the time, for his car will be ticketed or perhaps towed if it remains in the spot even seconds beyond the posted limit. If he parks in a parking lot, he will be charged an exorbitant sum for the privilege. And, no matter where he parks, as he walks to the police headquarters building he will encounter any number of panhandling vagrants who have wandered away from nearby skid row in search of “spare change.” Upon arrival at the headquarters building, he will subjected to a security screening akin to those performed at airports.

After all of that, he will be allowed to take a seat in the police commission meeting room to await his turn to speak. And it is at this point that all of the inconveniences described above will seem trivial.

Public meetings in any city or town – city council, school board, or what have you – attract their own regulars: the gadflies and cranks who appear at meeting after meeting and demand to be heard, most often reciting some variation of the tale they’ve been telling for weeks, months, or even years. The L.A. police commission has its share of these people, and in a city of four million people, that share is quite large. But lately, added to this usual roster of gadflies and cranks have been the crankiest people in town, the local chapter of the Black Lives Matter movement. So while our hapless citizen waits patiently to plead his case before the commission, he must sit and listen as the BLM people parade to the microphone, using their allotted two minutes (and usually more) to berate, belittle, and insult the commissioners and police chief Charlie Beck, often in language that is unprintable here.

If you want to know why LAPD officers are dispirited these days, if you want to know why they may be feeling the weight of the “Ferguson effect” and are reluctant to place their mortal hides on the line in the cause of reducing crime in the city, look no further than the commission that oversees the department. The police commission is a five-person body whose members are appointed by the mayor. It sets policy for the LAPD, and every member of the department, from the greenest rookie to the chief, serves under its authority.

In theory, this system of civilian oversight is an admirable arrangement. It becomes less admirable when that oversight is provided by people who are disconnected from the more unpleasant realities faced by police officers on the streets, and who in some cases are even hostile to the officers they purport to lead. Bear in mind that commissioners are selected not on the basis of any expertise they might have in law enforcement. Rather, they are chosen so as to satisfy demands for “diversity” on the panel. But this diversity, as is most often the case when the term is used today, does not extend to a diversity of thought or political opinion, only of race, sex, and sexual orientation. As it’s currently composed, the police commission is uniformly liberal, albeit with some members leaning farther to the left than others.

So how troubling it must be for the commissioners, good liberals all, to sit there and listen to the relentless invective spewing from people with whom, if the commissioners were candid enough to admit it, they are largely in agreement.