Transparency in the guidelines used to take disciplinary action in a police force is key to maintaining trust within and outside the agency. Otherwise, it might raise suspicions of favoritism, like is happening now in the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD).
The decision that LAPD Chief Charlie Beck made to set aside the recommendation of an internal disciplinary board to dismiss officer Shaun Hillmann has raised questions of favoritism, because Hillman’s father and uncle worked for the department, and the latter was a deputy chief close to Beck.
Hillman supposedly provoked a fight in a bar, where he uttered racial slurs and threatened people with his weapon. Later, he lied to investigators about the incident. A disciplinary panel made up of two officers and a civilian rejected most of the complaints against Hillman. However, it found that what was proven about Hillman’s actions was serious enough to deserve a dismissal. Beck said that he had the authority to reject the recommendation and gave Hillman a 65-day suspension, with the warning that he will get fired the next time there is a similar incident.
We think that the possibility of a next time should not exist, since Hillman should stop working in the police department.
There are cases in which retraining can help an officer who acted inappropriately and make him take a long hard look at his mistake. However, this case involves arrogance, cockiness with his weapon, racism and lies to cover up the incident. The problem that Hillman’s attitude reflects won’t get resolved with more training or warnings.
For years, the civilian commission that oversees the LAPD has called for a clear disciplinary policy, but it still does not exist. If that had become a reality, the ghost of potential favoritism or impunity would not be casting a shadow over Chief Beck today.