By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
And he’d be half-right. Clearly, the public did want more cops — that was the main plank of the platform on which Riordan was elected mayor in 1993. But twice during the ’90s, the public also voted for greater LAPD accountability. In 1992, voters approved Proposition F, which limited the term of the chief and established the civilian watchdog inspector-general position to investigate police misconduct. In 1999, they approved a measure specifically strengthening the I.G.’s power to initiative investigations, as part of the new city charter they voted to adopt. In short, the public hasn’t seen a larger force and a more accountable force as mutually exclusive goals. The mayor has.
Indeed, what the public has been saying about the cops is remarkably similar to what the public has been saying about the schools: We want an increase in accountability alongside an increase in the resources we’ll commit. As a condition for getting LAUSD voters to approve the massive Proposition BB bond issue in 1997, Riordan and his fellow civic capos created an oversight board to monitor all the spending. The public’s votes for Proposition F and the new city charter set up and strengthened another independent monitor — but these were mandates that Riordan, Parks and their commissioners elected to ignore. The mayor and his men became the municipal equivalents of those conservatives who insist, rightly, that throwing money at problems isn’t invariably a solution — unless we’re talking about the Pentagon, in which case it is. The LAPD is Riordan’s Pentagon: the exception that makes a mockery of his claim to being the business mayor ensuring that our tax dollars are wisely spent.
And still the mayor is refusing reform. He left town rather than attend the meeting where Deputy Attorney General Bill Lann Lee read the feds’ bill of particulars that had led it to consider filing a civil rights lawsuit against L.A. Parks has reacted to the threat of the suit with unconcealed fury; the mayor’s is barely concealed. And of all the various parties in the negotiations to reach a settlement short of going to court — the Council, the City Attorney, the city’s chief legislative analyst, and the Mayor’s Office — only the last seems bent on delaying a resolution.
According to several reports, including that of Jim Newton in the Times, Riordan is holding out for a “memorandum of understanding” rather than the consent decree that the feds and most council members would like to craft to keep the lawsuit from proceeding. (The difference is, in a consent decree the department signs a contract to make specific reforms, and a federal judge holds the city to its commitment, with the help of a designated referee who actually oversees departmental practices. A memorandum of understanding merely says the city will make certain changes, and if the feds think it isn’t, they can take the city to court.)
Since the council, not the mayor, has the power to craft the settlement with the feds, it’s not clear at first glance what Riordan hopes to gain by dragging out the negotiations as to what goes into the decree. If he delays a settlement until July 1, it will, by the terms of the new city charter, require 10 votes on the 15-member council, rather than the current eight, to agree to a settlement. At the moment, however, Riordan’s only public ally against a consent decree is Nate Holden, the council’s resident fruit-loop.
It is possible, I suppose, that Riordan and Parks hope against hope to delay a settlement into the beginning of next year, when Young George W. could ride onto the scene and order Justice to drop it altogether. That a Republican administration would let the LAPD off the hook is beyond question. Rightwing think tanks have already condemned Lee for threatening the suit; the law under which the suit would be filed was passed by the last Democratic Congress in 1994; Lee himself has never been confirmed to his post by the GOP Congress (Clinton has given him an “acting” appointment till the end of his term); and the Republicans, particularly since they split with the cops on gun control, are in no position to oppose the cops on anything else. You do not have to be an avid fan of Al Gore to realize that one important difference between the Veep and the W. comes on the question of whether the feds will require police departments to obey civil rights law.
Nonetheless, it seems highly unlikely that 10 members of what is preponderantly a Democratic — and usually a liberal — City Council will wish to hold out to see if young Bush lets the cops off the hook. What Riordan and Parks are up to seems less a matter of strategy than of visceral rage.
Finally, more broadly — what gives with L.A.? Why is one of our major public civic institutions, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, being governed under one consent decree by a federal judge, while the LAPD is facing the near-certain prospect of an identical fate? Is there something about Los Angeles that makes it peculiarly incapable of self-government?