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Do Pasadena Police need civilian oversight?

Pasadena Police Department car.
Stock Photo Erika Aguilar/KPCC
Pasadena Police Department car.

Controversial police shootings and complaints against officers are fueling a debate over whether the Pasadena Police Department should have an independent, civilian oversight board. The issue will be debated Tuesday at a forum hosted by ACT Pasadena, a political action group. 

Pasadena City Council Member Steve Madison said he thinks the city's four-person Public Safety Committee already does the job. He will argue against the creation of a separate, civilian oversight board. 

“I think the times when you need some other structure of oversight is when the department is resistant to the kind of oversight that exists already,” Madison said.

Madison also said an oversight board would cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“We have so many other needs in our community right now,” he said.

Still, some community groups — NAACP Pasadena, the Pasadena-Foothill chapter of the ACLU and the Pasadena Foothill Democratic Club among them — continue to call for some type of civilian oversight.

Peter Bibring, staff attorney for the ACLU of Southern California, said a single police auditor with a staff of one or two people could allay concerns from the community about police trust.

“For a department the size of Pasadena, creating a small office like that is a small investment for the accountability and trust that it should return,” he said.

There are about 250 sworn police officers with the Pasadena Police Department. Not many small police departments have independent, civilian oversight boards or auditors.

But the issue of police oversight has grown in Southern California, especially with the recent addition of an inspector general to oversee the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department. This year, the city of Anaheim launched a pilot Citizen Public Safety Board of nine-community members that will review police policies and allegations of misconduct. 

“If you look at other cities, there’s usually some seminal event that occurred and people are looking for some kind of response, and it’s usually some type of oversight,” said Police Chief Scott LaChasse of the Burbank Police Department.

Calls for civilian oversight increased when Pasadena police fatally shot unarmed 19-year old Kendrec McDade in 2012.

Not long after that shooting, a couple of individuals filed complaints against detectives and officers for allegedly threatening witnesses and hiding evidence. The detectives and officers were cleared of eight of the ten allegations against them.

The Pasadena-Star News reports that Police Chief Phillip Sanchez opened an investigation this month into one detective after a tape recording introduced in court revealed questionable detective work.

Sanchez announced earlier this year the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department would review all Pasadena police investigations into officer involved shootings. He said it would add a level of transparency and a check on the PPD’s internal investigations.

The public debate starts at 7 p.m. at the Pasadena Public Central Library.