Politics & Policy

A Waste of Money, Time, and Lives

Federal oversight of the LAPD will continue.

In June of 2001, the city of Los Angeles and the U.S. Department of Justice entered into a consent decree aimed at reforming the Los Angeles Police Department. The Justice Department, under former Attorney General Janet Reno and former Assistant Attorney General Bill Lann Lee, had threatened the city with a lawsuit alleging the LAPD had engaged in “a pattern or practice of unconstitutional or otherwise unlawful conduct that has been made possible by the failure of the City defendants to adopt and implement proper management practices and procedures.”

#ad#These allegations arose from what has become known as the Rampart scandal, in which a handful of officers at one police station engaged in all manner of truly despicable behavior, including stealing and selling drugs, planting evidence, and, most horrifying of all, shooting and paralyzing an unarmed man, then fabricating a case that would send him to prison in a wheelchair. About a dozen officers were fired from the department or resigned under pressure, and a few, like two of the central figures in the scandal, Rafael Perez and David Mack, went to prison.

The consent decree itself is 90 pages of some of the most arcane language one should ever hope to read, containing 191 individual mandates governing virtually every aspect of LAPD operations. As one would expect of a document conceived by committees of government lawyers, the consent decree’s emphasis is on paperwork, paperwork, and still more paperwork, very little if any of which enhances the safety of even a single citizen in the city of Los Angeles. Perhaps I should correct myself by saying that the burdens of the consent decree do in fact benefit one particular niche group: the city’s criminals.

The LAPD has diverted millions of dollars and the efforts of hundreds of police officers to the cause of ensuring that the paperwork required by the consent decree is prepared just so. In a city with 9,000 unsolved murders on the books and an untold number of lesser crimes that get virtually no investigative attention, one might conceive of better ways for the city and the police department to expend these scarce resources. Every cop who spends his day in a cubicle preparing or auditing the great mounds paperwork generated by the consent decree is one less cop available to do what the public expects cops to do: go out on the streets and prevent the bad guys from preying on the good guys.

For all the time and money spent over these past five years, it now appears that the consent decree–or some portions of it–will be extended for at least two more years. Michael Cherkasky, the monitor appointed to report on the city’s progress to the federal court, says the LAPD is currently in compliance with only 121 of the consent decree’s 191 separate provisions. The city claims to be in “substantial compliance” with 149 of these mandates, but even if U.S. District Judge Gary Feess accepts this more optimistic figure it is unlikely that he will bring the consent decree to an end on its scheduled June 15 expiration date.

Left uncompleted is what Cherkasky believes to be the consent decree’s centerpiece, a computer database that will track every LAPD officer’s personnel history, including complaints, use-of-force incidents, traffic stops, detentions, and arrests. Implementation of this database, known as TEAMS II, is months behind schedule, and those subsystems already in use are rife with technical glitches. Still, lawyers for the city hope to persuade Judge Feess to extend the consent decree only as it relates to those provisions in which Cherkasky has found the LAPD to be out of compliance. Feess will rule on the matter after a May 15 hearing.

No matter how long the consent decree is extended, no matter how many dollars or how many cops are devoted to its implementation, full compliance with its demands may remain forever beyond reach. For one thing, Cherkasky’s company, Kroll Inc., has an obvious financial interest in finding the city out of compliance. The firm has raked in $11 million from the city treasury over these five years, and its management surely would like to see this reliable income stream continue for as long as possible. And, as Heather Mac Donald wrote in City Journal in 2003, Cherkasky may have placed the compliance bar at an impossibly high level:

Full compliance may well be impossible, judging from the August [2003] report of the federal monitor, Michael Cherkasky, who heads the Kroll Associates security firm. A control freak with the most unforgiving interpretation of deadlines, Cherkasky seems unaware that the department sometimes has to tear itself away from report-generation to fight crime. For example, though captains managed to complete required reports on instances of non-deadly force, such as twisting someone’s arm to cuff him, within the mandated 14 days 94.3 percent of the time, Cherkasky judged the department out of compliance–a remorseless standard of bureaucratic fidelity that few modern organizations could meet.

Nonetheless, the usual suspects are calling on Judge Feess to continue the consent decree in its entirety. A Los Angeles Times editorial took just that position on Friday. And in an op-ed piece in the Times last Wednesday, Duke University law professor Erwin Chemerinsky and ACLU attorneys Catherine Lhamon and Mark Rosenbaum ignored the costs of the consent decree when they wrote, “There is no reason to let the consent decree lapse, and there are compelling reasons to continue it.” They cited what they described as a 40-year pattern of abuses by LAPD officers, which includes “ [t]he Watts riots, the fatal shooting of Eulia Love in the 1970s, the Rodney King beating in 1991 and most recently Rampart . . .”

The Watts riots of 1965 were sparked when a suspected drunk driver was arrested by officers from the California Highway Patrol, not the LAPD. And as for the other incidents, even if you accepted the interpretation of the facts least favorable to the LAPD, you are left with a handful of controversies spanning more than 40 years, hardly the stuff of a “pattern or practice” of unlawful behavior. In Los Angeles today, a cop can’t even write someone a traffic ticket without having at least a camera or two pointed at him; if there were abuses taking place, surely the Los Angeles Times and others would find great joy in reporting on them

Chemerinsky, et al, also resorted to that hoariest of claims cited by police critics, that of racial profiling. “Initial data from 2002,” they wrote, “documented that black and Latino motorists were still nearly three times more likely than white motorists to be asked to step out of their vehicles, four times more likely to be patted down and four times more likely to be asked to submit to a search. Subsequent data in 2005 showed that this pattern continues.”

Though Chemerinsky and his ACLU brethren fail to acknowledge it, there is another pattern that also continues, one that just may explain the disparity in the data they find so troubling: Blacks and Latinos are responsible for a far greater share of violent crime in Los Angeles than are whites. Blacks represent 11 percent of L.A.’s total population but commit approximately 40 percent of its murders. Latinos make up 46 percent of the population and commit about half the murders. As of April 29 of this year, there had been more than five times as many violent crimes reported in the largely black and Latino 77th Street Division as in the mostly white West L.A. Division. During the same period, 77th Street had 20 murders while West L.A. had none. There are 19 patrol divisions the LAPD, but more than 40 percent of the city’s 143 murders committed so far this year have occurred in the four divisions that cover black and Latino South Los Angeles. These are inconvenient but stubborn facts for our friends in the ACLU. If cops were not stopping and searching blacks and Latinos more frequently than whites, they’d be shirking their duty to protect the innocent, and racial sensitivity and political correctness be damned.

Still, for all the money that’s been spent, for all the scrutiny given the LAPD by the federal monitor, the Justice Department, the ACLU, the Los Angeles Times, and so many others, none of them has produced even a bit of evidence that the alleged “pattern or practice” of unlawful behavior in the LAPD extended beyond the dozen or so corrupt officers implicated in the Rampart scandal. Before we pour millions more dollars into the paperwork mill that is the consent decree, shouldn’t we ask if the money might be better spent elsewhere?

Jack Dunphy is an officer in the Los Angeles Police Department. “Jack Dunphy” is the author’s nom de cyber. The opinions expressed are his own and almost certainly do not reflect those of the LAPD management.

Jack Dunphy served with the Los Angeles Police Department for more than 30 years. Now retired from the LAPD, he works as a police officer in a neighboring city. Jack Dunphy is his nom de cyber.

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