LAPD Report Was Softened, Panelist Says : Police: The Christopher Commission’s original document was even more critical of the department than what it ultimately issued, according to one of its members.
When it was finally made public, the historic Christopher Commission report, which urged broad reforms within a troubled Los Angeles Police Department, had been toned down from an even more scathing original document, a member of the panel says.
In an indication that the Christopher Commission might have produced a stronger report, UCLA Prof. Leo F. Estrada said the tone of the final version was “substantially” weakened from an earlier draft and failed to convey some of the outrage felt by commission staffers who examined the Police Department.
The report was softened in part by the need to condense the size of the document but also as an effort to make the language more palatable to a wider audience--including the LAPD itself, Estrada said in an interview.
“There was some discussion . . . that the report had to have a measured tone,” Estrada said. “I think that was achieved . . . but there was probably a lot of outrage, a lot of anger, a lot of frustration that was subdued in the process. . . . From my point of view, those early drafts, as strong as they were, probably should have been retained to a greater extent.”
Estrada’s comments are significant because the Christopher Commission’s final report was widely regarded as a stinging indictment of a department plagued by rogue cops who engage in racially motivated brutality. Estrada’s indication that the original draft was even more hard-hitting suggests the department’s problems might go deeper than now described.
Among the recommendations, Estrada said, that didn’t make the final cut: that dog handlers be better trained on when to use their animals; that Chief Daryl F. Gates step down immediately, and that supervisors be punished when their underlings use sexist or racist language.
Estrada, one of 10 members of the commission, also said a long and important section on gays was deleted from the original draft; only a less forceful portion was eventually restored.
“The original document was very strong about the homophobia of the Police Department and was much more straightforward and direct about making that clear,” Estrada said. “But it didn’t end up in the final (document).”
Estrada said he stands by the final report, noting that he and all other commissioners ultimately signed off on all of it. But he fears that as the political process begins, a fractious City Council will further dilute the recommendations.
“As I see people pulling back, I’m afraid that they’ve pulled back into something that’s almost bland,” Estrada said.
“I just see the political process that is under way, and I realize as they step back and step back from our original position, that having gone in stronger might have in fact had greater, better consequences overall.”
Earlier this month, the City Council, after considerable debate, voted 8 to 6 to place a package of police reforms on the regular June ballot instead of calling a special election in March. The move prompted Gates, who had said he would retire in April, to waffle on exactly when he would leave office--comments that exasperated his critics.
The package of reforms includes the Christopher Commission’s recommendation that future police chiefs be limited to two, five-year terms.
The commission also recommended that a “transition” begin in which Gates would step down. Estrada said the earlier draft was less ambiguous and urged the chief to resign immediately, without a transition. Estrada said Warren Christopher, the career diplomat who headed the commission, negotiated among the members for “the most acceptable language.”
“I feel that as we moved from the original statement to where we ended up, we left lots of holes, lots of loopholes there, of which Chief Gates has, of course, taken advantage,” Estrada said.
The Times has previously reported that the issue of Gates’ future was the most difficult point the commission dealt with. Christopher and staff attorneys worked to build a consensus among members, including three who had been appointed by Gates.
Estrada said the “general thrust” of the commission’s recommendations was maintained in the final report. But, he said, the recommendations were less specific, and the tone of the report softer.
Adjectives and adverbs received special attention, he said.
“If we said that something was outrageous or horrific, it would be changed to something more like . . . unacceptable or improper,” he said. “Some of the reports that staff lawyers wrote for us were full of disbelief and full of anger and outrage (at what they were seeing inside the department), and by the time it came out in the (final) report, it showed concern.”
Some of the weakening was inevitable, Estrada said, because enormous volumes of material had to be summarized to render a manageable report. Also, the commission considered it crucial to be able to sell the report to the wider community.
And, Estrada said, “There was a concern that the Police Department itself would basically just reject it if . . . the tone was too strident. I think all of us agreed with that.”