They may not differ much on the need for creating more affordable housing, ending homelessness and providing better educational opportunities for children.

But one candidate in the race for the Pasadena mayor’s seat stands far apart from his three opponents when it comes to police accountability, with Jason Hardin saying the local Police Department is “corrupt.”

“I believe police oversight is necessary in the form of another city commission,” Hardin said during a recent candidates’ debate held at Madison Elementary School. “I believe they should be appointed civilians, not elected officials. I don’t believe just oversight is necessary. I believe complete reformation is necessary.”

The two other main candidates — sitting Mayor Terry Tornek and longtime Councilman Victor Gordo — could not be any more different from Hardin in their opinions on what needs to be done to ensure police officers follow the law. Candidate Major Williams had little to say on the subject, but Tornek took Hardin to task, calling his claims of corruption “totally outrageous,” adding only 30 acts of police abuse have occurred out of more than 6,300 stops in the past year — less than half of one-percent. Gordo responded by saying the present system is working well and should not be changed.

Both Tornek and Gordo said they preferred the present system in which the city’s elected officials operate in that function. Calls for a city police commission to investigate police misconduct are nothing new in Pasadena, Los Angeles and Los Angeles County. But nothing ever came of any of them, until recently.

In neighboring Los Angeles, the the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners was formed in 1920, and has not changed structurally since then, with the City Council approving the mayor’s five picks for those posts. The most recent change came in 2017 with passage of Charter Amendment C, which allowed terminated officers to choose all civilians to judge their fate, and not the lone civilian and two officers at the rank of captain and above currently comprising those panels. If anything, critics claimed this makes weeding out bad cops more difficult because civilians are typically more understanding and sympathetic to a given a officer’s plight.  

But perhaps the biggest change in policing is occurring in Los Angeles County. There, the nine-member Sheriff’s Civilian Review Board has been seated since 2016, five years after the ACLU issued a report on the condition of county jail’s, where inmates claimed to have been routinely beaten and sometimes tortured by deputy guards. Today, numerous sheriff’’s officials , including former Sheriff Lee Baca and former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, have been sentenced to various terms in prison in relation to a federal civil rights investigation of the jail system.

The citizen review board was formed by the county Board of Supervisors “to review, analyze and make recommendations” to the supervisors and the Sheriff’s Department. That system, however, appears to be inadequate, with members of the commission supporting Measure R on the March 3 ballot. 

If approved, Measure R would give the citizens’ board subpoena power, which would allow them to call witnesses and secure documents they might otherwise not be allowed to see.

However, it contains some limitations. 

For instance, the ballot analysis explains that presently the power to subpoena records and witnesses rests with the Board of Supervisors or may be delegated by the Board of Supervisors. The commission could also receive records from the sheriff and the Office of Inspector General, subject to applicable and confidentiality laws. But, states the text, “This measure would amend the County Code to give the Commission independent subpoena power to obtain documents or witnesses pertinent to its investigations and oversight, and provides the Commission power to administer oaths. The Commission would not be bound to follow agreements between the Sheriff and OIG for access to records.”

Further, states the analysis, “the Commission does not have the independent power to perform investigations, inquiries, audits or monitoring without using the OIG.“ Thus, Measure R, according to the analysis. “would amend the County Code to allow the commission to use its own members or staff to undertake investigations, inquiries, audits, and monitoring in addition to using the OIG.

In addition, Measure R would also amend the County Code to “permit the commission to review and evaluate the OIG’s handling and resolution of citizen and inmate complaints.”

Finally, Measure R would require the commission to “draft a plan for reducing the county’s jail population and providing alternatives to incarceration.”

Measure R, is opposed by the OIG, which says it is not necessary.

However, Commission Vice Chair Priscilla Ocen states in the analysis that “The Civilian Oversight Commission needs additional authority to ensure transparency and accountability in law enforcement in LA County. … It will allow the community to ask important questions and to demand answers so that we can respond and ensure that we have an equitable system of policing in L.A. County.”

In Pasadena, the City Council’s Public Safety Committee oversees the Police Department, although there have been attempts in the past to change that arrangement. In 1992, for instance, following the 1991 beating of Altadena motorist Rodney King at the hands of four LAPD officers following a traffic stop in Lakeview Terrace, members of the Pasadena Human Relations Commission requested that a citizens’ commission be formed to investigate police. However, that idea was squelched by then-Police Chief Jerry Oliver, who said people who want to know more about policing should join the citizens’ police academy which he proposed to start for people to gain a better idea of what officers face in a day’s work. And it’s been that way ever since.

In the Pasadena mayor’s race,  Gordo said “I support civilian oversight of the Pasadena Police Department by people who are accountable to everyone in this room, people who are elected to do the job.”

Hardin, however. felt just the opposite way.

“I believe police oversight is necessary in the form of another city commission,” Hardin said. “I believe they should be appointed civilians, not elected officials. I don’t believe just oversight is necessary. I believe complete reformation is necessary,” he said.

“We have a lot of people being brutalized, they are murdered …,” he said. “If you’re doing your job right, you don’t care who’s looking over your shoulder, you don’t care who’s watching you.”

After the debate at Madison Elementary, Marquis Robinson said Hardin “really spoke to me.”

“I really appreciate him speaking for people of color that have lived in and are natives of Pasadena. I really felt like he had a clear understanding of what a lot of people have dealt with in the community in Pasadena,” Robinson said. “The other candidates stood out to me. They made their statements and I appreciated their standpoint, but Jason Hardin really made a great impact on me.”