NATIONAL ASSOCIATION for EQUAL JUSTICE in AMERICA: Contempt-of-Cop and Excessive Force

The March 4 NAEJA meeting (video) was billed as a discussion by attorney R.J. Manuelian on Officer Involved Shootings and Excessive Force but it was really about “contempt-of-cop,” or as Special Counsel Merrick Bobb describes it “discretionary” or “obstruction” arrests.

I started reading Bobb’s reports about 10 years ago and have always liked and found them thorough, easy to read, unbiased, and pointed. He seemed to maintain integrity and not cozy-up too close to the sheriff in his role as ongoing monitor and critical reviewer of the LASD’s performance.

Bobb was a fall-back position from a fully fledged civilian review board. I’ll talk about review boards below.

Attorney R. J. Manuelian suggests what can be done to avoid being arrested and what to do if you are in trouble with the law, especially as it relates to young people. He and Walter Katz from the Office of Independent Review spoke on basic rights and the need to file complaints when officers exhibit questionable behavior.

For the sheriff, that means filing a “Service Comment Form” at the local station. There is a LASD policy that describes the complaint process and requirements

Manuelian’s comments on gang profiling suggests that innocent non-gang affiliated young people get arrested often, especially in Compton and that he will represent them when this happens. He also speaks to the illegality of trunk searches without driver consent and home searches without a search warrant that describe exactly what areas are to be searched.

The sheriff lays out from a law enforcement perspective that what should be done if stopped by deputies.

Again, both Manuelian and Katz emphasized the need to make formal complaints. The deputy “track record” is important as it relates to internal and external investigations of deputy behavior.

Complaint Process

Complaints are recorded in the Personnel Performance Index (PPI) and can help defense attorneys using Pitchess Motions gain access to examine a deputy’s history. I was unable to locate a concise and clear-cut description of the PPI but it is reviewed prior to promotions and transfers for deputies according to policy.

The sheriff’s Service Comment Report, or complaint form is not presently on the LASD Website but an electronic one is. There is also a phone number to make complaints, 1 800 698-8255.

Get the deputies name, time, place and day of the incident when you complain. Also, this form can be used for commendations when deputies do something noteworthy. In my opinion, positive behaviors are just as important as complaints in that it helps the community define desirable or expected behavior.

Manuelian believes that service improvement and change comes about through the complaint process and civil litigation. Others believe that civilian oversight is a solution to a community’s influence and say-so into how they are policed.

Civil litigation is fine but way to slow and the focus way too narrow. Lawsuits are expensive, consume a lot of time, and provide a remedy only in extreme cases such as what we might see with the Jose Delatrinidad killing by deputies last November or the Winston Hayes case in East Compton several years ago.

According to Walker (2002), research suggests that a strategy of suing police departments to achieve accountability and general reforms was not successful.

As a case of doing the right thing for the wrong reasons, it was the rising cost of civil suits over misconduct that prompted the County Board of Supervisors to hire on Merrick Bobb as Special Counsel. He has investigated nearly every aspect of LASD yet the problem of distrust and confidence in deputies remains high in places such as Compton according to regular informal surveys conducted by me.

Civilian Oversight

There are four types of civilian oversight of police according to Walker (2002). With Class I systems, a separate agency investigates citizen complaints and makes recommendations to the head cop. Members are civilian appointees.

Complaints are investigated by internal affairs in Class II systems but the civilian review body examines the complaint files and makes disciplinary recommendations.

Class III systems have the police department responsible for investigating and disposing citizen complaints. If not satisfied, the complainant can appeal to the citizen review procedure.

In “auditor” or Class IV systems, police retain full responsibility for handing citizen complaints. In L.A. County the Office of Independent Review and Special Counsel Merrick Bobb do the audit function.

Oversight is fine but still does not go to the problematic core in places such as Compton where many residents simply don’t trust police. Besides, audits occur after the fact. They may be fine with reducing the overall amount of civil payouts and save taxpayers a few bucks but do nothing to improve the everyday working relationships between residents and police in cities such as Compton.

At day’s end, Compton still has problems with public prostitution, graffiti, inordinate amounts of gang activity, and poor deputy and community relationships and is the reason why I support community-oriented and problem-oriented policing. These policing styles place more emphasis on solving community problems and have the potential to go right at the problem of distrust.

Collective Responsibility

Manuelian rightfully placed a lot of the onus on families and community members for mitigating “gang” activity and its negative outcomes like murder. I go further and stress the interrelationship between families, schools, neighborhoods, municipal/county government, and economic opportunities.

If family heads work to pay bills and maintain the roof, the larger community has a support obligation. In Compton, a very youth unfriendly city, one skate park, airport program, and youth activity league aside, there is little of value for 32,000 young people under 18 years old.

There are many problems to be addressed that will take a concerted effort by everyone including police if they are willing to expand beyond a narrow law enforcement focus.

If, indeed, as the sheriffs core values assert “As a leader in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department…,” true leaders have followers. True leaders will help the community solve problems not cause them. True leaders will not just look to arrest its way through but help tackle the thornier problems faced by places such as Compton. True leaders form and work with teams with a purpose to satisfy the resident customer. True leaders don’t take the role lightly and constantly seek to improve service even when it’s uncomfortable and uncustomary.

The goal of the true leader is to have Compton become a city where it is safe for every woman, child, and man to walk the street without fear at anytime.

That’s a real game changer and the point where commerce and the city will flourish and self-image will improve.


Walker, S. (2002) The Police in America An Introduction. Fourth ed.