Saturday, November 16 at the St. Anne’s Conference Center, gathered 250 community members, academics, and law enforcement to discuss how to re-define public safety. The objective was to share insight on community-based strategies to combat police escalations leading to the fatality of civilian life. The format of the discussion was broken up into two parts; the shared responsibility for peace and the paradigm shifts of power between community and city government. This event was hosted by the LA County Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission and the Department of Public Health.
The conference started with presenting evidence of bias judgment and aggressive practice within the police force. The Keynote speaker, Jerome Dixon shared his story of being arrested for a murder he did not commit. He was incarcerated for twenty-one years until the parole board acknowledged his claim of innocence. Dixon, as a scared child, was held for interrogation for 25 hours until he cracked under the pressure and confessed to a crime he had no hand in committing. He was only a high school junior at the time of arrest and was not aware of his rights nor were those rights within investigation disclosed to him. The conference room was moved by his story, and he received a standing ovation for his accomplishments and humility post confinement. This provoked the question of how can this never happen again?
After the Keynote speaker, there was a panel discussion about the significance between elected sheriffs or appointed police chiefs and their structure of power. There were countless viewpoints about the differences in their framework and which one supplied greater accountability and oversight opportunity. Panelist Laurie L. Levenson, a professor at Loyola Law School stated that it came down to a couple of principles; how either structure was accessible to the community and the level of professionalism. She also sparked the idea of creating a new option other than the traditional appointed or elected selection.
The other panelists took to that proposal and presented ways to organize a third opportunity that would be progressive. As the panelists finished their thoughts the floor opened up for questions from the audience and the meeting became more interactive.
The assembly became communal as they moved away from the focus of the podium and divided the audience into small think-tank groups accompanied by commissioners of human relations and law enforcement. Everyone shared a perspective on community peacebuilding and involvement of oversight for the city police, along with many other impactful topics to move forward with. Respectful conversations answered questions of how to institutionalize community healing after trauma and the responsibility that needs to take place after a critical event involving the officers of the law. A few solutions offered were to continue having these open-minded conversations that include more of the community being heard, defining the role of an officer, and creating a space for a community facilitated alternatives to handle mental health-based alerts where force is not needed. Through the Oversight Commission, the call for change within the police structure is being answered. The entire community is being held accountable for developing a restorative plan for success in L.A. public safety.