The decade began with a quartet of cops beating Rodney King. It ends with revelations that a couple of cops shot a handcuffed prisoner in the head, put a gun in his hand and framed him for attempted murder. Clearly, the city’s attempts at police reform have come up short.
It’s not that there have been no changes for the better at the LAPD. Daryl Gates isn’t chief anymore. The department is far more racially diverse, and has far more women officers than it used to.
But for all the changes, three rotten realities persist. First, the department, like all police departments, is home to a number of bad cops, so caught up in the war on crime that the occasional atrocity becomes just normal battlefield behavior. Second, the bad cops are protected by their colleagues’ code of silence, which is a deeply ingrained part of the department's culture. And third, the department still lacks the kind of independent oversight required to really clean house. A lot of the LAPD’s despicable practices, it seems, have survived the changes in department demographics.
We welcome the affirmation by the city attorney that the LAPD’s inspector general can initiate investigations and will have the authority and freedom to pursue them wherever they lead. But the authority of the inspector general should never have been in question. In 1992, L.A. voters said loudly and clearly that they wanted an independent I.G. when they voted for Proposition F, which encompassed the key recommendations of the Christopher Commission. Just three months ago, they said this even more emphatically, when they voted by a 60-40 margin for a new city charter that made the I.G.’s authority still more explicit.
The fact is, all the city attorney affirmations in the world don’t matter a damn so long as the chief — and, ultimately, the mayor — remain uncommitted to civilian oversight. To his credit, Chief Bernard Parks has undertaken far more disciplinary actions than any chief in recent memory. To his discredit, however, he has made clear that any action by the I.G. — be it Katherine Mader or Jeffrey Eglash — is an unwelcome affront to his own authority. He has argued that the new charter doesn’t really give the I.G. the power to pursue investigations, the explicit language of the charter and the expressed wishes of L.A. voters to the contrary.
If Chief Parks can’t live with the L.A. city charter, he should find a city with a charter more to his liking.
Finally, this is Richard Riordan’s charter, just as this is Richard Riordan’s chief. After several days of characteristic silence, the mayor has spoken out against “a few evil officers.” But he needs to make it clear to his hand-picked chief and his hand-picked commissioners that the fundamental law of this city — a law he moved heaven and earth to get enacted earlier this year — calls for civilian control of the department. And in the final analysis, the civilian who controls the department is the mayor himself.
Mr. Mayor: You won your job by telling the citizens of Los Angeles that you were tough enough to turn L.A. around. Are you? Are you tough enough to take on the officers of the Rampart Street Gang? Are you tough enough to take control of your police force?