The city of Los Angeles asks a judge Monday to end federal monitoring of the LAPD. The city argues that the department’s reformed its ways following a series of scandals and high profile beatings, and no longer needs the federal government looking over its shoulder. KPCC’s Frank Stoltze reports.
Frank Stoltze: Eight years ago, the United States Department of Justice accused the LAPD of engaging in a pattern and practice of brutality – especially against minorities. Rather than fight the federal government, the city agreed to reforms and federal oversight. Police Chief Bill Bratton said this consent decree has spurred necessary changes.
Chief Bill Bratton: The 21st century Los Angeles Police Department is a very different department than that of the 1990s – the 20th century. This could not have been done without the consent decree.
Stoltze: Now, Bratton and the city say it’s time to end the decree and move toward limited federal oversight.
The man a federal judge appointed to monitor the department agrees. In a final report, Michael Cherkasky said the LAPD’s reformed practices from the way it trains and supervises officers in the use of force to the way it investigates residents’ complaints. He said the department’s established an “international policing standard.”
In a study issued earlier this year, Harvard criminologist Christopher Stone said he found that Angelenos feel much better about the LAPD too.
Christopher Stone: Not only do you get good results but the "excellents" – those people as any marketing expert will tell you – the highest rating doubles from both surveys previously. That gives us a high degree of confidence there's really change in the public's attitude toward the LAPD.
Stoltze: Stone added that the LAPD gave him extraordinary access to department data. He called that another sign of how far the once highly insular LAPD has advanced. That doesn’t mean everyone agrees it’s time to end federal oversight.
Mark Rosenbaum: I think it’s too soon and take the monitors, who have done an effective job, and send them out to pasture entirely.
Stoltze: Mark Rosenbaum of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California maintains that disturbing racial patterns persist in the department’s policing. Using the LAPD’s own numbers, he said that over a six-month period last year cops asked black and Latino drivers to get out of their cars about three-and-a-half times more often than whites. ACLU Attorney Peter Bibring:
Peter Bibring: Not only were there huge racial disparities in the rate at which African Americans and Latinos were stopped, frisked, searched and arrested compared to whites. But that those disparities were not justified by any legitimate law enforcement rationale that was evident in the data - such as the local crime rate, the time of day, the age and gender of the person stopped.
Stoltze: Gerry Chaleff is a former president of the police commission. He’s been Chief Bratton’s right hand man overseeing reforms. He said there are too many variables to police stops to draw conclusions from the numbers the ACLU presents.
Gerry Chaleff: To just come out and say that "Well these numbers show that there's a pattern and practice of racial profiling" – I don't think it’s statistically sound and I don't think it’s fair.
Stoltze: At the same time, Chaleff acknowledges it’s impossible to rule out that the department’s got a problem with racial profiling. He believes it does not, and he argues that the LAPD better monitors officers and investigates complaints to address any problems.
Harvard’s Christopher Stone said that when one survey asked people in L.A. whether police in their neighborhoods treat all racial and ethnic groups fairly, it did reveal concerns.
Stone: Among African-Americans, it’s answered yes about 40 percent. Obviously raising that up higher would be good. But 40 percent is higher than was the city as a whole was in 2005.
Stoltze: In his report, the federal monitor said he didn’t recommend lifting the consent decree because there’s no need for continued reform in the LAPD. Rather, he said, the department’s at a point at which it can “effectively maintain and advance reform” – with local oversight by the civilian police commission and its inspector general. A federal district judge will have the final say on that.