The Los Angeles Police Commission named a new president this week, picking an FBI agent turned university security director and professor to lead the civilian agency charged with oversight of the LAPD.
The unanimous vote to appoint Erroll Southers, a career law enforcement official, has drawn praise from colleagues who said his decades of experience make him the ideal leader for the LAPD’s watchdog, while critics have questioned his past ties to a controversial counter-terrorism program.
Southers takes over as four shootings by police officers in two weeks have revived concerns about the LAPD’s use of deadly force. The department is also attempting to replenish its depleted ranks, which officials say fell below 9,000 officers for the first time in roughly two decades.
Introducing Southers at the commission’s weekly meeting Tuesday, the outgoing president, William Briggs, praised his successor’s eagerness to meet with rank-and-file LAPD officers, department brass and police union officials “to learn more about the issues that are most important to them and that impact their work.”
“Commissioner Southers has worked throughout his career to educate officers and civilians alike on best practices in policing and public safety,” Briggs said.
Southers told The Times he sees the job as balancing public safety and accountability.
“My role, first of all, is to make sure the department is situated to perform the functions of a public safety agency,” Southers said. “It means having enough personnel, it means having enough resources … but it also means having the necessary community relations so that people can help us help them.”
It’s a “difficult task,” he said, but the two aren’t “diametrically opposed.”
Some LAPD observers opposed Southers’ appointment due to his time with the Santa Monica Police Department and the FBI, and his later work as a counterterrorism advisor. Southers was involved with a federal initiative known as Countering Violent Extremism, or CVE, which critics have said unfairly targeted Muslim communities.
In a 2017 Times op-ed about the program, Southers pointed to what he saw as missteps made by federal authorities at CVE sites in Los Angeles, Minneapolis and Boston. “Too often, federal employees seeking to address violent extremism parachute into a community and dictate public safety priorities to residents,” he wrote.
Southers said he has continued to be outspoken about what he views as flaws in CVE programs and pointed to relationships he has forged with those who’ve been affected.
“For those critics, I can send them to a whole lot of community members in the Somali community in Minneapolis,” he said.
Hamid Khan, an organizer with the police abolitionist group Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, said Southers’ appointment sends the message that it’s business as usual with “a rubber-stamp body” that has historically failed to reign in abuses.
“He is fundamentally a cop; he comes from the FBI,” said Khan, a regular presence at commission meetings.
Khan scoffed at the suggestion that Southers’ familiarity with police work will make him more effective, saying that in the months since he joined the board he rarely seemed to press police officials.
“We haven’t heard a single sign of [Southers] voicing opposition or hearing people,” Khan said.
Among his backers, Southers has a reputation of being thoughtful, decisive and a straight shooter. He is currently the associate senior vice president of safety and risk assurance for USC, overseeing the university’s police, fire and environmental health agencies. Regarded as a leading expert in combating terrorism, he’s also taught classes as a professor of national and homeland security. Southers previously held a national security clearance while assistant chief of the Los Angeles World Airports Police Department.
Civil rights attorney Connie Rice praised Southers’ familiarity with police procedures and protocols as an asset in trying to navigate a department culture that has been historically resistant to outside oversight.
“You don’t have playground supervisors manage a law firm,” Rice said. “Having someone who understands policing and who understand the the current crisis in policing and speaks credibly about it and is respected by law enforcement is very important.”
The commission also voted 5-0 to appoint Rasha Gerges Shields, a white collar crimes attorney with the national law firm Jones Day, as vice president.
Shields’ background as a former federal drug prosecutor, Briggs said, afforded her “intimate knowledge that crime has on our institutions.” Since joining the commission this spring she has become an advocate “for diversity and inclusiveness,” and had taken an interest in addressing recruitment, bias in police operations and use of force, he said.
Southers and Shields were nominated by Mayor Karen Bass in February, replacing commissioners Dale Bonner and Eileen Decker. Southers was elevated to vice president a short time after taking his seat.
The change in leadership comes amid a citywide drop in homicides, shootings and other violent crimes after several years of increases. The dip below 9,000 sworn officers is particularly concerning for officials as the city prepares for upcoming major events, including the World Cup in 2026 and the Olympic Games in 2028. More officers than normal have been retiring or leaving for other agencies, and with half-filled police cadet academy classes, the department has struggled to keep up with attrition. This puts into serious danger Bass’ state goal of rebuilding the LAPD’s ranks to 9,500.
The commission functions much like a board of directors for a corporation, with the chief of police playing the role of chief executive officer. It does not directly control the department’s budget or staffing levels, but does have a hand in setting policy and approving certain spending. It also wields significant sway over LAPD brass, as its members approve the appointment of the chief.
Its members will also play a role in picking a successor to Chief Michel Moore. Moore said when he was appointed for a second five-year term that he would only serve for two or three years before turning the department over to a new chief ahead of the Olympics.
The term of another longtime commissioner, developer Steve Soboroff, will expire at the end of the month. Soboroff is expected to be replaced by Fabian Garcia, a crime prevention expert who serves as director of government relations for Homeboy Industries, according to an Aug. 9 letter from Bass. With the appointment of Garcia, who is Latino, the board would be made up entirely of people of color. The fifth member is Maria “Lou” Calanche, executive director of Legacy LA, a youth development organization.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Briggs said he felt honored to have served for two terms as president. In that span, he said, “we’ve accomplished a lot,” pointing to technology upgrades, an overhaul of the department’s pretextual stop policy, and new training that teaches officers how to intervene if a fellow officer uses excessive force.
“We’ve all weathered challenging times in the past few years,” said Briggs, who took the role in 2021 when the country was still reeling from the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the movement for racial Justice that it sparked.
Briggs drew the ire of some when, in one of his first public comments after taking over as president, he publicly rejected the notion of “defunding” the Police Department. More police are needed to keep residents safe, he argued, especially in Black and brown communities that have historically borne the brunt of violent crime. This instantly put him at odds with activists who have argued that public safety is better achieved through funding social services, not police.
On Tuesday after Briggs referred to the LAPD as the “pinnacle of American policing,” he asked officers to remove someone from the room who began heckling him.
“While I do not agree with all of your methods and some of your notions, I do understand that you believe that you are carrying the torch for this current generation and you, too, want to see our city succeed,” Briggs said as the person was being escorted out. “At the bare minimum, you certainly made the 45-minute comment period interesting.”