Out of Commission

There will be no Jews on the Board of Police Commissioners if the L.A. City Council confirms Mayor Hahn’s appointees, as it is expected to do this month.

Although some have voiced concern that the civilian body overseeing the Los Angeles Police Department will, for the first time in years, lack a single Jewish voice, most people involved with the commission feel it is not necessary to have a Jewish police commissioner to represent Jewish concerns.

The two Jewish members of the current five-member board are Raquelle de la Rocha, commission president, and Dean Hansell, vice president. Gerald Chaleff, former commission president, made for a Jewish majority on the board until then Mayor Richard Riordan fired him in February. Other recent Police Commission presidents have included community activist Stanley Sheinbaum and Rabbi Gary Greenebaum.

Police Commissioners volunteer their time — up to 50 hours a week — while maintaining professional careers, and may serve up to two five-year terms. Members of the Board of Police Commissioners, who are appointed by the mayor, traditionally resign at the beginning of a new administration. Of the current commissioners, only Galpin Motors CEO Herbert Boeckman will be reappointed to a second term under Hahn.

De la Rocha likens the responsibilities of the Board of Police Commissioners to those of a corporation’s board of directors (with the police chief as the company’s CEO). One of the commissioners’ projects is a Hate Crimes Task Force, responsible for reviewing reporting methods, training, and actions taken by the Police Department whenever a hate crime is involved. Hansell, a partner with the law firm of LeBoeuf, Lamb, Greene & MacRae, and a past board member of the Jewish Federation Council of Los Angeles, Metro region, leads the unit.

One recent Police Commission action may highlight the impact of Jewish sensitivities. In July, the commission voted to substitute a "moment of silent reflection" rather than a chaplain-led prayer at Police Academy graduation ceremonies. Hansell recalled "at least one graduation ceremony where the convocation was in Jesus’ name." The change, proposed by de la Rocha, passed by a margin of 3 to 2, with returning Commissioner Boeckman among the dissenters.

De la Rocha believes issues like this, while not the bulk of the board’s business, are important. De la Rocha, who was raised Catholic, converted to Judaism in 1978 as a philosophy major at UCLA. "I just believed in the philosophy, and the way Judaism views ethical behavior separately from a system of rewards or punishments" she says. "I don’t want to say Jews think a certain way, but I think there should be a balance of viewpoints on the Police Commission."

Hansell agrees, at least, in the sense that "being Jewish is an important perspective, and Jews have a unique sensitivity on a number of issues." Hansell also says, however, "There are other viewpoints that need to be represented as well." Anti-Semitism within the ranks of the Police Department, he says, is "a theoretical issue but, fortunately, not a real issue."

Others emphasize that the full diversity of Los Angeles cannot be represented on a five-member board. Rabbi Gary Greenebaum, former Police Commission president and the Western Regional director of the American Jewish Committee (AJC), said, "The Jewish community is deeply committed to the life of Los Angeles, so it’s not surprising that for most of the time, there has been a Jew on the Police Commission. But every person appointed or elected in the city doesn’t have to be Jewish to represent Jewish concerns."

He also notes that many important issues of police reform, particularly racial profiling, have not directly affected Jews, adding, "It’s not as if the mayor has appointed five wealthy white Protestant men to the commission."

Indeed, Hahn’s appointees represent an ethnically diverse Los Angeles. Both Hansell and de la Rocha point especially to incoming Commissioner Rose Ochi, a Japanese American who has made a career of battling discrimination and hate crimes, as an assistant attorney general and director of the Department of Justice’s Community Relations Service, among other commitments. During Riordan’s administration, no Asian American served on the Board of Police Commissioners.

"My hope is, the [new] commission’s level of sensitivity to Los Angeles’ concerns will not change," Hansell says. "I think they will put as much energy into the work as I have."