LOS ANGELES (FinalCall.com) – A federal judge has lifted an eight-year consent decree on the Los Angeles Police Department, drawing various opinions on whether or not the department’s monitoring ended too soon.
On July 17, U.S. District Judge Gary Feess replaced the decree with a transition agreement, on the condition that the court keep jurisdiction over the agreement. In return, the LAPD gets to report to the Los Angeles Police Commission on its reform progress.
The consent decree imposed was an accountability measure on the LAPD in 2001, after a series of high-profile incidents, including the nationally-publicized beating of Black motorist Rodney King, and the Rampart police division scandal, which exposed gang unit officers planting evidence, framing suspects, stealing drugs and money.
It also forced the department to monitor citizens’ complaints; track officers’ behavior through a database; and monitor and report on its tracking, especially with respect to racial profiling.
The LAPD recently reported that out of 1,200 complaints of racial profiling, none could be substantiated. Though dissatisfied and disappointed, determined police watch groups said the decree forced LAPD to pay attention to what it didn’t think was important.
Attorney Peter Bibring of the ACLU told The Final Call the LAPD had complied with all but about 10 percent of the decree eight years into it. But the percentage of non-compliance included core areas that motivated federal oversight in the first place, he said. The ACLU argued the department should stay under the monitoring effort, but the court lifted the decree. The court continued LAPD’s obligations in a few key remaining areas, but in a scaled-back fashion, the attorney said. The LAPD must make its remaining reforms, some within six months and others within about 18 months, Atty. Bibring explained.
“Everybody acknowledges that the department’s certainly made a great deal of progress over the last eight years of the decree under the leadership of Chief (William) Bratton and this Police Commission. The question is whether the culture of the department has really changed,” Atty. Bibring said.
He told The Final Call he is especially concerned about Chief Bratton’s response to the ACLU’s recent report on racial profiling. According to reports, Chief Bratton said the ACLU needs to stop accusing the department of racial profiling and the LAPD is the model of American policing.
“The department’s own data clearly shows broad disparities in the way Blacks and Latinos are treated by LAPD. The fact that an African American is more than twice as likely to be frisked, but that frisk is more than 40 percent less likely to turn up evidence, of weapons is troubling. The department has yet to explain those figures,” Atty. Bibring said. While Chief Bratton insists the department does not engage in racial profiling, he refuses to release current data to prove problems don’t exist, said the ACLU lawyer.
Attorney Connie Rice of the NAACP’s Advancement Project is a long time police reformer, who has sued the department many times. Now she works on the inside with Chief Bratton and progressive officers to help identify new training and other resources to improve police-community relations and policing techniques.
Atty. Rice told The Final Call she could have made the case to continue or end the consent decree. Saying people reading her words might believe she was taking drugs, Ms. Rice agreed with Chief Bratton that the decree established basic, standard data, monitoring and checks on behavior. The deeper issues, she said, the decree was never going to be able to address because it was not set up that way. It was insufficient to impact racial profiling, she said.
“With the decree ending, the question is, is LAPD going to flip back into its old ways … the new leadership at LAPD, including Chief Bratton, Assistant Chief Earl Paysinger (who is Black) … are really, really good change agents and they have changed the culture of the department at the top, but now you’ve got to go below the captain level and make sure the conditions and incentives for the police change to match the new vision,” Ms. Rice said.
According to Atty. Rice, the new vision is that LAPD is no longer a paramilitary occupation force, but committed to “high road policing,” desirous of public trust, and cooperation, and willing to treat the community with dignity and respect.
“They never even used to say that at the top. I can say they’re changed, but if you go to graveyard shift in Southeast L.A. on a Saturday night, I don’t think folk are going to see much change,” Atty. Rice added.
The necessary incentives for changes, she added, include rewarding officers for creating relationships with communities and giving them more than an 18-month cycle to build community rapport. In addition, she suggested changes to the promotion criteria; for example, to reward officers for not arresting one 18-year-old, and finding an alternative to deal with a problem, instead of rewarding them for arresting ten 18-year-olds.
According to Atty. Rice, so-called minorities make up 52 percent of the LAPD and although the police still mess up, recent polls showed 70 percent of Blacks were highly satisfied or satisfied with the department, compared to previous polls where 75 percent were dissatisfied.
Dr. Anthony Samad, author and managing director of the Urban Issues Breakfast Forum in Los Angeles, said Chief Bratton wants to use changes in the racial makeup of the force as proof of change within LAPD. LAPD is definitely more diverse, but questionable shootings and quickness to engage in deadly force still exists, he said.
Dr. Samad echoed Atty. Bibring’s concerns and view that Chief Bratton should not try to dismiss racial profiling. Race is the trigger for how people are treated and tracking helped document profiling based on race, he argued.
“You just now have a better process to address it than you once had. That’s where LAPD has improved, largely because technology and advocacy sophistication has forced them to become more sophisticated in how they address complaints. Everybody has cameras, cell phones, the ability to expose them at any time,” Dr. Samad said.