LAPD Consent Decree Initiates Changes to Police Corruption
June 28, 2004 | By Gregory Yates
Contentions that the Los Angeles Police Department’s consent decree is needlessly costing the city millions lacks the substance inherent with any genuine understanding of this issue.
If we extend that fatally flawed logic, we should abolish the U. S, Constitution to further stabilize our city’s precarious economy. Without the Constitution, nobody’s civil rights could be violated because they wouldn’t have any. And, the city could save its weight in diamonds by avoiding jury verdicts that might otherwise by awarded in civil rights litigations,
Obviously, these notions are patently absurd, like any other end-justifies-the-means scenario, While I enthusiastically applaud any desire to relieve the crushing burden borne by Los Angeles taxpayers, we should not toss out the baby with the bathwater by trying to achieve that relief by any means and at any cost.
It’s true that police departments in some other cities struggle with officer misconduct without needing a federally mandated consent decree of departmental reforms. However, it was not criminal misconduct by LAPD officers that brought about the consent decree. Nor was it the culture of corruption within the department, allowing a systemic series of civil rights abuses to occur unreported and undisciplined.
Instead, it was the abject and unrepentant failure of previous LAPD administrations to vigorously address the departmental contamination revealed by federal investigators. Only when the city faced a massive civil rights lawsuit was the decree agreed to at last. Even so, lingering resistance and blind objection to the decree remains well entrenched.
Not only are such ideas terminally illogical, they contain a variety of misleading half-truths and factual errors that beg to be corrected. While it’s true that the decree’s federal monitor, MIchael Cherkasky, recently reported a need for increased progress in implementing certain reforms, his comments could hardly be construed as blasting the LAPD. In fact, his report commended the Police Department’s new leadership and applauded the department’s vastly improved efforts compared to the example delivered by the LAPD’s previous administration.
In short, things are finally changing for the better, but it will require ample time, effort, and indeed, money to successfully implement the decree’s necessary reforms. This was well recognized from the beginning, which is precisely why the Department of Justice intelligently provided several years for the LAPD to complete the task.
Contrary to some assertions, Mayor James K. Hahn did not “dump” former police Chief Bernard Parks. Any freshman student of our city charter knows the mayor is not endowed with legal authority to either hire or fire any police chief. That function belongs to the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners, subject to the advice and consent of the City Council.
While it’s true they decided against granting Parks a second term, it was a decision based on a variety of factors well beyond his fierce opposition to the consent decree. Among them were the Rampart scandal, one of the worst police corruption disgraces in U.S. history, that is attributed to a “handful of officers” only by those who are either woefully uninformed or deliberately deceptive.
Compounding the Rampart scandal was the lowest departmental morale in LAPD history and a massive, seemingly unending exodus of officers from the force that left its personnel resources at a historic and dangerously low level.
The decision not to extend Parks’ tenure was not an effort to blame him for the department’s horrendous condition. Rather, it was a decision to secure fresh leadership possessing different administrative priorities designed to move the department upward and onward to the state of professional excellence so long desired by its rank-and-file officers, and so well deserved by the citizens they serve.. Any comparison of the LAPD under Chief William Bratton’s leadership to the department he inherited will affirm the positive wisdom of the commission’s courageous decision and the City Council’s extremely well-advised endorsement.
A number of false impressions extant in some circles include one that the LAPD lacks firm standards for dealing with violations and discipline, and an inability to distinguish between frivolous and credible complaints. But, anyone familiar with the situation knows the department’s operations manual clearly specifies standards by which all forms of questionable conduct are evaluated, by which all questions of disciple are resolved, and by which all complaints are judged and adjudicated.
Through numerous risk-management programs, the department has no trouble identifying problem officer. Its failures have not been in recognition, but in discipline. Indeed, absolutely no lack of standards paved the road to the consent decree. In truth, full responsibility is rightfully assigned to the department’s previous lack of adherence to clearly specified standards.
Throughout history, law enforcement agencies have proved incapable of effectively policing themselves. The conflicts of interest are as abundant as they are apparent and inherent. After a thorough study of the LAPD and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department in 1992, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights reached the same conclusion. It earnestly called for the creation of an independent, fully autonomous civilian review board designed and assigned to police all law enforcement agencies.
That call went largely unheard and unheeded. Now would be an excellent time to revisit that evolutionary recommendation.
The consent decree is not a tool for bringing the guilty police officers to justice. That is province of U.S. District Judge Gary Freess, who has consistently issued judicious rulings in Rampart-related civil cases. The decree has but a single general purpose — to initiate the remedial changes necessary to ensure that the institutionalized and systemic corruption of the past will never again tarnish the badge worn by noble police officers.
Yes, this unavoidable and inescapable ounce of prevention will cost money. But, it is spare change compared to the bill of a pound of cure.