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Police Union Threatens to Sue City

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By Jorge Casuso

February 23, 2021 -- Santa Monica's police union has threatened to sue the City if it is not allowed to participate "as a partner" in the formation of the Public Safety Reform and Oversight Commission created by the City Council last month.

In a statement issued Tuesday, the Santa Monica Police Officers Association (SMPOA) said that "excluding certain groups from the public policy making process is antithetical to our values as an inclusive community, results in inadequate policy and in this case is simply illegal."

The statement comes one week after attorneys for the SMPOA sent a letter to the Council reiterating the union's desire to meet with City officials, who they say have ignored repeated requests from the POA to weigh in.

The letter from Rains Lucia Stern St. Phalle & Silver, PC -- a law firm that represents peace officers -- alleges that the union was "not provided any prior notice" before the Council voted to create the Commission and hire an Inspector General ("Santa Monica Establishes Civilian Police Oversight Commission," January 14, 2021).

"The obligation to meet and confer is not a superficial requirement and in order to ensure the protection of the City from liability for breaches of privacy or deprivations of due process, it is imperative that the City include the SMPOA as a partner in this process,"

The attorneys contend that the POA's participation is required by California's 2013 Meyers-Milias-Brown Act intended to promote "uniform and orderly methods of communication between employees and the public agencies by which they are employed," according to the Act.

City officials said in a statement Tuesday that the process to create a commission has included members of the police department, including POA leadership.

These members "have been active participants of this process, including sitting on the Public Safety Reform Advisory Committee and weighing in before City Council meetings where Council moved forward Santa Monica’s first civilian oversight commission," the statement read.

"The City responded to the POA regarding its request to meet and confer and will meet all meet and confer obligations," officials said.

In a response to the POA Monday, Dilg said the City does not believe that "the provisions of the ordinance establishing the Public Safety Oversight and Reform Commission triggered any meet and confer obligations."

"The ordinance does not grant the Commission any direct role in overseeing investigations or disciplinary matters," Dilg wrote.

"Rather, the Commission can simply make recommendations to the Police Chief, City Manager, and City Council, who would then have to make implementation decisions that might then be subject to the obligation to meet and confer."

While the City has included members of the Police Department, it has failed to include the POA, the union's attorneys said.

"The input of the Police Department or individual employees is not the equivalent of the SMPOA, which has been formally recognized by the City for this role of bargaining representative and must execute its decisions through the Board of Directors as governed by its bylaws," the atttorneys wrote.

In a November 4 letter to Interim City Manager Lane Dilg, the POA requested a meeting to discuss the impact the Commission would have on "matters within the scope of representation," the attorneys said

These implicate "serious matters involving discipline, the confidentiality of peace officer personnel files, the oversight of investigations and disciplinary appeals."

It also will have an effect on "officer and citizen safety related to the diversion of funds to the commission."

The Inspector General retained by the City Manager's office -- who will report to and receive direction from the Commission -- is funded through a reallocation from the SMPD budget.

Dilg estimates the cost of the Inspector General position will be $200,000 to $225,000 a year, although the cost is expected to decrease over time.

This month the City began soliciting applications for the Commission, which bars City employees from participating.

According to City officials, the Commission will work with the Police Department and experts to "recommend reforms to SMPD policies, practices, and handling of complaints regarding SMPD conduct."

The Commission has 150 days after it first meets to present a set of initial recommendations to the Police Chief, City Manager and City Council.

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