Wave Staff and Wire Services
LOS ANGELES — The Police Commission has named Erroll Southers, a former FBI agent turned university security director and professor, to head the city’s civilian agency charged with oversight of the Los Angeles Police Department.
Southers assumes leadership just as concerns about the LAPD’s use of deadly force have resurfaced in the wake of four shootings by police officers in two weeks. It is also at a time that the department is attempting to replenish its depleted ranks, which officials say has fallen below 9,000 officers for the first time in almost two decades.
“Commissioner Southers has worked throughout his career to educate officers and civilians alike on best practices in policing and public safety,” said outgoing commission President William Briggs in praising his successor.
Southers’ ascension to the top of the police commission board wasn’t without opposition and criticism that his police and law-enforcement background runs afoul of the intention of a watchdog body.
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 rein in abuses.”
“He is fundamentally a cop,” Khan said. “He comes from the FBI.”
Southers is currently the associate senior vice president of safety and risk assurance for USC, overseeing the university’s police, fire and environmental health agencies.
He is regarded as a leading expert in combating terrorism, who has 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.
Los Angeles civil rights attorney Connie Rice praised Southers’ extensive experience with police procedures and protocols as an asset in helping revamp 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 understands the current crisis in policing and speaks credibly about it and is respected by law enforcement is very important.”
In 2009, Southers was nominated by President Barack Obama to head the Transportation Security Administration but withdrew his name from consideration months later after coming under fire from Republicans for testimony before Congress in which Senate Republicans said he gave incomplete information about accessing a federal database for personal reasons. The move led to a censure from the FBI.
Obama said he believed that “Erroll Southers would have been an excellent TSA administrator but understands his personal decision and the choice he has made.”
GOP objections to Southers were based on concerns over the TSA becoming unionized.
Specifically, Republicans expressed concern that collective bargaining — a union tactic allowing workers to organize together and negotiate on issues such as hours and wages — would be allowed if Southers took over.
“It is clear that my nomination has become a lightning rod for those who have chosen to push a political agenda at the risk of the safety and security of the American people,” Southers said in a written statement at the time.
“This partisan climate is unacceptable, and I refuse to allow myself to remain part of their dialogue.”