Smart money says the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) consent decree would not have been terminated if most of those alleging racial profiling were white. And if Chief William Bratton really believes racial profiling no longer exists in LAPD, he, not the ACLU, should "get off it."
The consent decree was entered following LAPD Rampart Division's corruption scandal in 2001. Dozens of officers were accused of serious misconduct and crimes, including physical abuse of suspects, evidence tampering and perjury.
Although hundreds of claims of race-based discrimination against LAPD were alleged in the last few years, not one was sustained. Given this and Bratton's denial, it is not surprising that Blacks and Latinos, in particular, still distrust LAPD. Lifting the consent decree was a slap in their faces. Judge Gary Fees found that LAPD has reformed itself sufficiently but required a transitional plan that shifts federal oversight of the Department's efforts to fully implement incomplete or recently finished reforms to the Police Commission. The remaining problems include race based discrimination, arguably the single-most important issue for people of color. Bratton's insistence that racial profiling no longer exists is as unbelievable as it is insulting.
Judge Gary Fees and his monitor, Michael Cherkansky, cite significant improvements in LAPD. "... "When the decree was entered, LAPD was a troubled department whose reputation had been severely damaged by a series of crisis....In 2008, LAPD had become the national and international policing standard for activities that range from audits and handling of the mentally ill, to many aspects of training and risk-assessment of police officers, and more."
Most Blacks would not concur with such high praise. They would more likely agree with the ACLU that the decree should have been extended because, "There's too much evidence that skin color makes a difference in who is stopped, questioned and arrested by LAPD."
A report commissioned by the ACLU found that LAPD has yet to acknowledge the scope of racially biased policing or to fully embrace solutions. It concludes that race can be a factor in officers' decisions to stop people, but also to frisk, search, cite or arrest them. It found that, "African Americans and Latinos are more than twice as likely to be ordered out of their vehicles than whites, increasing the likelihood of their being frisked, submitted to searches and arrested."
Although extending the consent decree for three years in 2006 and expressing serious concern about the transitional agreement, Judge Fees nonetheless terminated the decree last month, leaving racial profiling to less stringent oversight. For most Blacks, the implications are disturbing-LAPD has not sustained a single claim of racial profiling in recent memory.
Termination of the consent decree coincided with Bratton's pronouncements of a dramatic reduction in crime statistics. But those dealing with gang interventionists and others involved in the prevention and reduction of violent crime in South Central Los Angeles have a different perspective: They see an increase in officer-involved shootings and no significant reduction in homicides in too many areas. (Community organizer Kokayi Kwa Jitahidi's quip that not many Blacks and Latinos are ready to nominate the LAPD for a Nobel Peace Prize is right on.)
Earlier this month, the Los Angeles Times noted that LAPD's online crime map intended for public use, failed to include nearly 40% of serious crime reported in the city. Thousands of incidents between January 1 and June 13 this year were known to officials and are included in their official crime statistics, but do not appear on LAPD's website. These include 26 homicides, 137 rapes and 10,756 personal, vehicle or other non-violent statistics. (More than a thousand robberies were also omitted.) The data was compiled by a system developed under Bratton in New York; internally, it is managed by LAPD staff and officials insist that problems with the public system have not affected the department's internal statistics.
The consent decree was imposed because of widespread misconduct and criminal behavior by LAPD officers. The Department has made progress but is still not in full compliance with the consent decree; the judge mandated a transitional period to complete all necessary reforms. Racial profiling is foremost among the areas requiring additional monitoring for full compliance. And despite Chief Bratton's adamant denial, racial profiling continues. Just ask the average resident in South Central Los Angeles -and Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates.
Larry Aubry can be contacted at e-mail