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
Several council members most closely involved in policing issues agreed that it was time for drastic action. “We can’t, and we don’t, do it ourselves,” said Laura Chick, past chair of the Public Safety Committee. Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg — a point person on several police issues, such as the independence of the Inspector General’s Office — noted that the council’s “failure” had more to do with “massive resistance” from the LAPD than from any lack of council effort.
Other officials were more ready to accept a share of the blame. “As a city, we failed — councils, commissions, chiefs,” confessed Public Safety Committee chairwoman Cindy Miscikowski. The consent decree gives us accountability from the outside” to complete the tasks set out by the Christopher Commission, she added.
The anti-settlement camp focused its fire on the “federal takeover” issue: Hal Bernson, speaking as “someone who’s had to live with a consent decree at the MTA,” was “not prepared to turn over the running of this city to Janet Reno.” Nick Pacheco felt it was strange and unfair to have the LAPD supervised by an authority whose own agencies, the FBI and the INS, had also played a part in the abuse of immigrant communities. Nate Holden accused the council of acting like “15 police chiefs,” and the Police Protective League of being “disruptive,” perhaps because they weren’t getting their desired three-day-shift agreement out of Chief Parks.
The four wild cards in this endgame are Mike Hernandez, Alex Padilla, mayoral aspirant Joel Wachs and John Ferraro, who was absent. The bloc of settlement supporters needs three of them to override an anticipated mayoral veto. Hernandez seemed to have reservations about how much the settlement would cost, and to be disappointed about how little it covered — especially in contrast to the numerous issues raised in Chemerinsky’s report. Padilla mystified observers by maintaining a sphinxlike silence — he is still studying the report, said a staffer. But Wachs, who spoke early and earnestly for thoroughgoing reform, also left doubt about his bottom-line position on the lawsuit question. Opposed from the get-go to negotiating behind closed doors, Wachs reiterated Monday his preference for more input from “stakeholders” (the public and police officers, in particular) in shaping the new LAPD.
What’s vexing to police critics is that, for all the consternation at the City Council, the Justice Department’s proposed agreement may not do enough to bring the LAPD out of its ’50s-era, paramilitary mindset.
The Christopher Commission made a point central to its critique of the department, and civil rights attorney Connie Rice reiterated it emphatically at the police union news conference Monday: “It’s the culture, stupid.” That is, the problem at the LAPD — the problem that won’t go away — is the culture of aggressive control that pervades the department. “Aggression has not lost its primacy in the LAPD culture,” the Chemerinsky report notes.
Chemerinsky goes on to pose a slate of reforms to address just that problem — among them restoration of community policing, specifically by restoring the Senior Lead Officer program (scuttled by Chief Parks), establishment of a policy protecting whistleblowers from departmental retaliation and creation of a panel of experts, in Chemerinsky’s words, “to forge a culture-transformation blueprint.”
The report also calls for independent inquiries into the failure of the district attorney and the city attorney to spot and react to corruption at the Rampart Division. None of these measures are being contemplated by the Justice Department, however, or by Chief Parks in his report. Councilman Joel Wachs, for one, finds the omissions critical — so critical that he’s considering casting his vote against any reform measure that fails to address these underlying issues. “We have two reports,” i.e., the chief’s and the Justice Department’s, “that don’t get to the heart of the problem,” Wachs said.”
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