By Sonny Tapia
Former East Los Angeles College Political Science Professor Maria Calanche was appointed to the Los Angeles Police Commission to replace Commissioner Sandra Figueroa-Villa.
Calanche was confirmed unanimously by the LA City Council, after her nomination by Mayor Eric Garcetti, on September 2.
When Garcetti announced his nomination for the appointment of Calanche on August 25. He said in his public announcement that she would be a vital voice for the city’s leadership in 21st century policing.
Calanche has been an advocate for the youth of LA through her work with her non-profit, Legacy LA. She is executive director and founder of the organization, which she started in 2007.
ELAC Political Science Professor Consuelo Castro spoke about Calanche’s qualities and capabilities to perform in the newly assigned position.
“Calanche is an excellent fit for this position. She is an articulate community based activist who is well versed on police and community relations,” Castro said.
Castro said that when Calanche left the Social Science Department, the other faculty were sad to lose her, but ultimately they understood that she was doing great work in the community.
Castro hired Calanche as a part-time professor and saw her work ethic and organization skills as a huge plus to what she was working toward.
“She can be counted on to be a strong and fair voice on behalf of the community in addressing police practices,” Castro said.
“She understands the problems the community, especially young people, have faced in its relations with the police. She is a problem solver and can be counted on to include important stakeholders in representing the community.”
When she started Legacy LA, there was a 60 percent dropout rate according to the Los Angeles Unified School District. Calanche felt it was because her community lacked the proper resources to advocate for the youth in Ramona Gardens.
This organization focuses on engaging with youth in her home community of Ramona Gardens and its neighboring cities.
Legacy LA offers case management and counseling services for youth in the community from sixth grade through college completion.
The Through Our Eyes program, offers youth and Los Angeles Police Department officers a chance to communicate through workshops and courses.
The goal of this program is to break the communication barrier between what young people of color and the police. “The program is youth led and youth developed. The point of the program is to teach police officers and help them understand how the youth feel,” Calanche said.
Calanche said that it can be difficult for young adults and teenagers to really communicate with the officers when they are being questioned.
Legacy LA focuses on promoting leadership programs through after school tutoring and workshops, as a dropout prevention tactic.
Calanche remembers how difficult it was for young people to communicate with police in general and she wanted to stop that from happening.
She feels that the new appointment will allow her to connect more with the community now that it has a direct connection with a police commissioner.
“I think it is a great opportunity for me. It is also an opportunity for the community to have someone on the police commission that has a connection with youth,” Calanche said.
“The youth will have access to a person in a higher position to contact and connect with,” she said.
Calanche talked about implementing a youth advocate to the police commission that could speak on behalf of the youth that are being stopped by police.
The advocate would act as a neutral mediator for the youth being questioned. She feels that this would add a sense of equality for those that do not understand what they are being questioned for.
The City Council and Police Commission have been discussing a way to react to non-violent 911 calls by sending social service workers instead of police to handle the situation
“The police would be a backup plan for those types of calls if they escalated. I fully believe in trying to make that happen,” Calanche said.
Along with the discussion of sending social service workers, Calanche believes the police need to do a better job when handling calls in communities of color.
She said that communities of color deserve high quality public safety along with making sure everything is safe on both ends.
Calanche is looking across the nation at different models of policing to gain ideas to bring to the other members of the commission.
In the past months, protests for the Black Lives Matter movements have spread across the nation due to the death of George Floyd and more recently the shooting of Jacob Blake.
This has sparked a police response across the nation with tear gas and rubber bullets shot toward protesters in the streets of their cities.
Calanche spoke about the protests and whether or not the police are responding the proper way to the protester’s actions.
“Obviously, it is hard to be a police officer because you are trying to allow people to protest while protecting private property. I feel the city of LA, the mayor and the chief are very aware and also sensitive to how people are feeling,” Calanche said.
“We are trying very hard to ensure that the way we police is sensitive to the way things are happening. You just don’t want police to get hurt, but the department is doing what it can.”
She continued by adding that the department is focusing on safety and the needs of protestors that have the right to be upset and the right to be there.
Calanche believes that the rubber bullets and tear gas are not something that is warranted by police during the protest and should be a last resort.
Teaching and believing in protest is something that she advocates for, but did not have a response about whether or not the police are trained to detain without killing or brutalizing protestors.
The 2020-2021 total budget for the LAPD is $3.14 billion and $1.86 billion to policing after the $150 million in cuts made by the City Council and Mayor Garcetti.
Calanche believes she can advocate for proper disbursement of the funds that she has access to on the commission.
“Police need more training in mental health and social justice classes to create more empathy toward situations police face,” Calanche said.
She said that a lot of the training for police is military-like instead of empathetic toward communities. One job of the Police Commission is that every week they review any use of force by officers in arrests.
Any time an officer discharges a weapon, it is investigated by the commission and the officer’s Inspector General.
The Police Commission decides whether or not the officers were within policy or not, based on body cam footage and other forms of evidence.
If the commission finds that an officer was outside of policy, it does not have the power to fire officers from their position. That is the responsibility of the Board of Rights, which consists of the officer’s peers and fellow LAPD members.
“Yes, Michael Moore should be ultimately held accountable for the officers’ actions that reside under his jurisdiction,” Calanche said.