L.A. Police Union Calls for Civilian Oversight
By David Barry
In a sharp break from tradition, the city’s police union is calling for a civilian review board to oversee crucial areas of the department’s internal investigations.
The Los Angeles Police Protective League, which has been critical of Chief Bernard C. Park’s leadership, made 15 recommendations for improving the consent decree under which the city and the Los Angeles Police Department have allowed federal oversight of the department.
The oversight stems from charges of corruption in the department’s Rampart station, where a group of officers allegedly framed, robbed and attacked suspects. Some suspects claim to have been targeted by police as early as 1996, and more than 100 tainted convictions have been overturned.
The police union’s position is remarkable because it states that the reforms called for by the Justice Department “do not go far enough,” said league director Mitzi Grasso.
“We are very concerned with the Justice Department’s suggestions for reforming the LAPD,” Grasso said, “and we just feel that the consent decree does not go far enough.”
Cover-up of misconduct?
A central contention in that case, stemming from revelations by former police office-turned-informant Rafael Perez, is that the LAPD’s Internal Affairs Division overlooked ongoing reports of police misconduct in the Rampart Division.
Critics within and outside the department have accused top LAPD command officers, including Parks, with covering up long-standing evidence of alleged corruption in the Rampart station, particularly actions pertaining to the disgraced and now disbanded anti-gang unit.
“Sunlight is the best disinfectant,” Grasso said in a statement Thursday. “Civilian oversight combined with an outside auditor and an audit oversight panel will improve the quality and credibility of internal investigations.”
Parks today said he had no comment on the proposal.
‘Substantial reforms’ needed
While commissions frequently recommend to cities troubled by police scandals to establish civilian review boards, police departments have successfully opposed such moves in nearly every instance.
The Los Angeles police union, however, is specifically calling for civilian oversight of several crucial areas of police discipline and administration. For instance, the league has called on the department to improve the system for investigating personnel complaints against officers.
“There must be substantial reforms of the internal affairs group, including civilian oversight,” the union said.
It also called on the department to increase cooperation with state legislators to prevent the perception of racial bias and racial profiling.
The extent and nature of federal oversight has not been spelled out, but the consent decree stipulates that if specified reforms are not implemented, the department faces a possible takeover by the federal government, as happened in Pittsburgh.
“In Pittsburgh,” Grasso said, “Pro-active policing has been discouraged. In the more than two years since the consent decree was signed, arrests have gone down while crime has gone up.”
The federal takeover of the Pittsburgh department, Grasso said, has been “a very expensive failure, a failure no one wants replicated in Los Angeles.”
To avoid a similar takeover, the police league is urging the City Council to review and modify the consent decree.
City Councilwoman Laura Chick, a frequent critic of the LAPD, said she was surprised and pleased by the league’s stance.
“That’s a historic first, and a welcome one,” Chick said. “I couldn’t agree more with the league on the need to go forward on this issue.”
David Barry is an APBnews.com correspondent in Los Angeles.
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