The good news for Chief William Bratton and cohorts is that the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) will probably be found in substantial compliance with all requirements of the Federal Consent Decree. The bad news for the rest of us is that formal compliance may mean little or nothing on the streets.
In June 2001, the city of Los Angeles and LAPD entered into a consent decree with the Department of Justice that provides guidelines for new policies and procedures to reform the conduct of the LAPD. An independent monitor is responsible for ensuring that Decree reforms are implemented. The consent decree was to expire on June 15, 2006, however, on May 15, 2006, a federal judge ordered it extended until July 1, 2009.
The most recent independent monitor report covers the quarter ending September 30, 2007. Significantly, a previous report indicated that since LAPD had achieved substantial compliance with significant sections of the Decree, the monitor would not actively monitor or report on those sections during the three-year extension period. Should slippage/regression occur during the extended period, failure to monitor or report compliance, even within those sections previously approved, could distort, even invalidate the monitor reports. (The report defines “transactional” change as checking the boxes indicating implementation of each requirement and “transformative” change as ensuring “lasting cultural reform is in place throughout LAPD.”)
Many Blacks will be skeptical of the monitor’s assessments such as the implication that the department’s MacArthur Park report reflects a policy milestone in ; it will take more than an over-the-top description of a patently illegal police action to convince Blacks that real change is underway.
The Consent Decree requires LAPD officers to reports all incidents in which force is used with a determination as to whether that force is “Categorical” (CUOF), or “Non-Categorical.” Categorical, are the more serious actions and include Officer-Involved Shooting, in-Custody Death, and Law Enforcement Activity Related Death. All other use of force is considered non-categorical.
The monitor reports substantial compliance with all consent decree provisions relating to use of force, except those requiring, among other criteria, managers to analyze circumstances surrounding the presence or absence of a supervisor at a “categorical” incident; referral of all officers involved in a CUOF resulting in death or substantial possibility of death, for a psychological evaluation. (These are substantial exceptions.)
The Consent Decree also requires LAPD to establish and/or continue to implement policies and procedures regarding searches and arrests. The department has not achieved substantial compliance with the requirement related to supervisorial presence at, and review of, the service of search warrants and the search warrant log.
The decree directs LAPD to ensure the public “unfettered” ability to lodge complaints against police officers. The decree requires that misconduct complaints be adjudicated in a fair, timely and consistent fashion. The chief of police must report to the Police Commission on his imposition of discipline. The department has not yet achieved substantial compliance with decree requirements relative to the receipt and maintenance of complaints; the investigation of complaints; access to information contained in TEAMS II (computer tracking system now up and running) for units conducting specified complaint investigations.
LAPD (officially) prohibits discriminatory conduct. As mandated by the Consent Decree, officers may not make pedestrian or vehicle stops based on race, color, ethnicity or national origin. The decree directs LAPD to enforce these policies and mandates data collection with the ultimate goal of determining whether racially biased stops are being made. Based on the prior audit findings of non-compliance and additional concerns, the Monitor’s prior conclusion of non-compliance remains in effect.
The Consent Decree’s training requirements center largely on Field Training Officers supervisory training and training content, including periodic training on police integrity. The department has not achieved substantial compliance with the requirement to train members of the public scheduled to serve on the Board of Rights in police practices and procedures.
The monitor acknowledges substantial work remains to be done, most notably the determination of whether individual officers violated departmental policy and, if so, the degree of appropriate discipline. “It is clear that the transformation of the department is not complete... and we will continue to closely monitor the Consent Decree’s transactional requirements...to ensure that they have the desired effect of bringing about true reform within the department.”
My chief concern here is areas of non-compliance and those sections of the Consent Decree not yet approved by the Independent Monitor. They contain issues that Blacks, especially, continue to find disturbing.
A previous monitor’s report asserted that since LAPD had achieved significant compliance with a number of Consent Decree requirements, the monitor would not actively monitor or report on these sections during the three-year extension period. (Couldn’t slippage/regression occur in previously approved requirements that results in misleading, even distorted assessment of LAPD’s compliance during the extension period?)
The monitor believes LAPD’s report on the MacArthur Park melee was a “milestone, marking a degree of transparency, introspection as a road map to remediation which, despite the substantial gains in reforms under the Consent Decree, has, heretofore, not been seen. (This sounds fine, but remains unproven and problematic. The Independent Monitor’s assessments notwithstanding, the latest report cites substantial non-compliance, which is of ongoing importance to Los Angeles’ Blacks. For example, non-compliance areas include inadequate training and leadership and other areas not yet assessed like Search and Arrest procedures and Data Collection progress, all of concern to B lacks.
Most Blacks will not share the Independent Monitor’s optimistic assessment of LAPD’s progress in complying with the Consent Decree. The issue of trust contaminates both sides of the Blue Line but is addressed only inferentially in the Monitor’s report and ironically, remains both a phantom goal and stumbling block to basic civility between LAPD and far too many of Los Angeles’ Black and Latino residents.
Change is a function of behavior, not assessments or promises. The jury remains out on the significance of the Consent Decree on LAPD’s culture and day-to-day operations.