By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
More broadly, there have been no new corruption revelations of any magnitude. Discipline appears to be tightening up — 1996 set a new yearly high for dismissals with 39; in 1997 that figure rose to 49. And in 1998 Commissioner Timoney ordered the “phasing out” of police blackjacks, and Deputy Commissioner Norris promised to examine all incidents of nightstick use to the head and face.
Another indicator: Timoney consolidated Internal Affairs in the spring of 1998 under a single chief, Deputy Commissioner Norris, and the following year added 10 more staff. Now, says Norris, including forced resignations, IA will probably get rid of close to 70 corrupt cops this â year, mostly for theft, hanging out with drug dealers and the like.
Norris contends the police union makes his job particularly difficult. They “will fight to the death to save even cops they hate,” he says. That point is quickly confirmed in a telephone conversation with Richard Costello, president of Philadelphia’s Fraternal Order of Police. Adopting an aggressive street-fighter tone, Costello denies that brutality or discrimination persists in the department. “We addressed [use of force] problems in the ’80s,” he maintains. “We cleaned up our act.”
As for the civil rights groups who sued the department, Costello challenged them directly. His fraternal order would agree to open its personnel files, he says, only if it had “access to ACLU’s records to determine if it was true they were financed by the porno industry and drug dealers.”
Has crime gone up, as critics of the agreement predicted it would if police were “handcuffed” in their practices? No one really knows — Commissioner Timoney found portions of his department’s crime statistics so unreliable that he retracted the 1998 figures already given to the FBI. A Philadelphia Inquirerseries also questioned the official numbers, showing, for example, that numerous rapes had been downgraded to categories like “disturbance.”
One statistic that stands out — and contradicts the claim that officers are too constrained, too demoralized or too resentful to do their jobs: Arrests per officer have increased more than 20 percent from ’97 to ’99.
While the plaintiffs seem pleased with what they’ve achieved, the NAACP’s Mondesire attributes much of the progress to the reform commitment of the forceful new commissioner. The legal agreement, he says, improved use-of-force investigations and the complaint system, but it took Timoney to instill new attitudes in sergeants and supervisors. ACLU counsel Stefan Presser is the most upbeat, stressing the numerous tasks accomplished despite the long wait for computerizing complaints. Where past drug sweeps raised havoc, Presser concludes that a recent Timoney-run drug crackdown, “Operation Sunrise,” came off without dragging in innocent people; the ACLU received not a single complaint.
Even as he prepared to go back before Judge Dalzell last week to get a third extension on an oversight process that was supposed to end in 1998, ACLU counsel Presser voiced few regrets about having carried a burden the Department of Justice might have shouldered. “We never asked DOJ in — we knew Clinton wasn’t going to sue his friend [then-Mayor] Eddie Rendell. But if they had come in, it would have been DOJ’s vision of a solution.”
The DOJ vision for Los Angeles might be an appropriate one — Bill Lan Lee spent years here as counsel to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund — but LAPD watchdogs here worry that the department’s culture will be tough for outsiders to decipher. Constance Rice, a former colleague of Lee’s, advocates continued vigilance. Says Rice, “There may be a need for private civil action even if they get a pretty good decree.”
“It’s a relationship,” says lawyer Will Gonzalez of Philly’s Police Barrio Relations Project, “and like in all relationships there’s a lot of compromising.” If he had it do over again, says Gonzalez, he’d insist on firmer deadlines. In the end, he echoes Rice, contending that you have to pressure the police on multiple fronts — “The agreement is only one tool we use.”
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