It’s time to end federal control of the Los Angeles Police Department.
In 2001, following the Rampart police corruption scandal, the LAPD signed a five-year consent decree with the U.S. Justice Department. The decree puts a wide range of police management under the control of the U.S. government, from the recruiting of confidential informants to the investigation of the use of force by officers.
The decree requires a gargantuan amount of paperwork, all of which must be completed according to draconian timetables. Unless the department reaches compliance with the decree’s 180 provisions by next year, it will face another five years of federal control after the decree expires in 2006.
Judging by monitor Michael Cherkasky’s most recent review (available at http://www.lapd.org), taxpayers should get used to paying for these senseless federal mandates for decades to come. Cherkasky engages in the most unforgiving interpretation of deadlines, with no apparent awareness that the department occasionally has to track down a criminal or two.
* The decree requires that every time an officer uses non-deadly force, such as twisting a recalcitrant suspect’s arm to handcuff him, a captain or above must report the incident within 14 days. In 94.3% of the cases Cherkasky reviewed, the captains completed their report in 14 days. Judgment: The Police Department is violating the reporting rule. No matter if the late reports occurred during the investigation of a triple homicide or after the roll-out of a new gang initiative.
* The Police Commission took 68 days, rather than the required 45, to review the department’s quarterly discipline report. Judgment: out of compliance.
* The department took 21 days, rather than the required seven, to send its audit reports to the inspector general. Judgment: out of compliance.
None of these infractions has anything to do with the proper supervision of officers; they are artifacts of arbitrary deadlines for completing often duplicative paperwork. The LAPD could probably achieve full compliance with the consent decree if it reassigned hundreds more officers from crime-fighting to paper-pushing. Of course, violence in the city would explode.
For all its grim literal-mindedness, Cherkasky’s report contains some unintended humor. The consent decree dictates that after an officer uses near-lethal force, he remain off-duty until he -- and his supervisor -- sees a “licensed mental-health care professional.” Cherkasky is “concerned” that all officers involved in such incidents during the last quarter were subsequently found fit for duty. Presumably, he would have been happier had they declared themselves victims of post-traumatic stress syndrome and put in for six-month leaves. Yet, the ability to get back to work after a shootout may be a sign of good training and stable mental health.
Cherkasky is also upset because six officers in near-lethal-force incidents worked at least one day before their supervisors talked to a mental health professional. Earth to Cherkasky: The LAPD is experiencing an acute manpower shortage, partly because of the consent decree. It can little afford to keep officers sidelined until their managers speak with a psychiatrist.
Mayor James K. Hahn and the U.S. Justice Department should negotiate an early end to federal oversight of the LAPD. The care and feeding of the decree have diverted precious police resources away from crime-fighting into activities that have nothing to do with catching hoodlums or making the police force more professional.
Police Chief William Bratton is committed to improving the oversight of officers, but the decree strips him of discretion in allocating managers’ time and attention.
The Bush administration should realize how much hangs on real police reform in Los Angeles, from improved race relations to prevention of terrorist attacks. Then it should remove the largest impediment to that reform.