Mayor Mike McGinn took two significant steps Tuesday in the wake of the city’s settlement with the Department of Justice, announcing a long-delayed reappointment of the civilian director who oversees police internal investigations and hiring a nationally recognized civil-rights attorney who played a key role in spurring widely praised police reforms in Los Angeles.
McGinn nominated Kathryn Olson, who oversees the Police Department’s Office of Professional Accountability (OPA), to the job she has continued to hold without required City Council confirmation after her initial three-year term officially expired more than two years ago.
But McGinn’s biggest move was the naming of Connie Rice to advise him as the city moves forward in addressing the Justice Department’s concerns about the use of excessive force and discriminatory policing.
As a civic leader, she helped bridge divides between Los Angeles police officers and gang members. She also played an instrumental role in guiding the city through a consent decree with the Justice Department that was hailed for changing community perceptions of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD).
“Twenty years after the police beating of Rodney King was caught on videotape, and 10 years after the Justice Department imposed a consent decree to battle pervasive corruption … this has become a department transformed, offering itself up — in a way that not so many years ago would have been unthinkable — as a model police agency for the United States,” The New York Times reported last year.
Rice, who had regularly sued the department, told the newspaper, “We’ve gone from a state of war to becoming partners here.”
In January, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck threw a book-signing party for Rice at the new LAPD headquarters. During her introduction, Beck said he is often asked what he thinks of Rice and how to describe her role in the city.
“I think of her as the conscience of the city of Los Angeles,” said Beck, whose remarks were captured on a video posted on the book’s website. “She is the North of our moral compass. While I don’t always agree with Connie in her methods, I always agree with Connie on where we are going to go with those methods.”
Rice, who served for years in the Los Angeles office of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, is now co-director of a civil-rights organization called the Advancement Project.
Rice, the second cousin of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, is the author of what McGinn labeled an acclaimed book, “Power Concedes Nothing,” about her work in education, transportation, incarceration and public safety.
Olson, whose first term expired in May 2010, was nominated by McGinn to serve through May 2013, the equivalent of what would have been a regular term. She is eligible for a third term but can serve no more than nine years overall.
“Kathryn is a dedicated and knowledgeable public servant,” McGinn said in a statement in which he credited her for improving the quality and timeliness of OPA investigations. “Our settlement agreement with the Department of Justice clearly lays out required policy changes to be made on a set timeline. Kathryn will help us make those changes on that timeline.”
McGinn drew recent criticism from the current and past chairs of the council’s public-safety committee, Bruce Harrell and Tim Burgess, for letting Olson’s reappointment languish.
Harrell said last week that while the Justice Department complimented the OPA’s work and Olson enjoys the support of police, she has been criticized by community organizations and accountability advocates.
Aaron Pickus, McGinn’s spokesman, said Tuesday the mayor held off on the appointment in deference to the Justice Department’s nine-month investigation of the Police Department, which concluded in December, and the subsequent negotiations that led to a settlement in late July.
Under the agreement, a court-appointed monitor, who has yet to be chosen, will track the reforms.
During a hearing Friday, U.S. District Judge James Robart, who is overseeing the settlement, raised concerns about the status of the OPA position. Robart gave his provisional approval to the agreement, while staking out more say over the selection of the monitor and asking for more frequent reports on the progress of the reforms.
McGinn on Tuesday also announced the hiring of Glenn Harris, who previously worked as Southeast District coordinator at the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods, to work on the staff of the Community Police Commission. The commission is to make recommendations on reforms.