A judge Monday postponed deciding whether to free the Los Angeles Police Department from years of federal oversight.
More than eight years ago, following the Rampart corruption scandal, the LAPD was forced by the U.S. Department of Justice to agree to a sweeping set of reforms aimed at improving officers’ behavior and the department’s ability to maintain order in its own house.
In 2007, U.S. District Judge Gary A. Feess, who oversees the department’s reforms, angrily rejected the idea that the LAPD was ready to police itself and added three more years to the life of the so-called consent decree.
Now, with nearly all of the dozens of reforms in place and police leaders eager to move beyond the stigma of federal oversight, the LAPD was once again seeking an end to the decree. Attorneys for the LAPD and the U.S. Department of Justice jointly submitted a proposal to Feess asking that the consent decree be terminated in favor of a “transition agreement.”
Under the proposal, the Police Commission, the civilian panel that oversees the LAPD, would assume responsibility from federal monitors for ensuring that the LAPD would follow through on the remaining reforms.
Among the unresolved issues is the department’s ongoing effort to strengthen its stance against racial profiling by officers. And it still must demonstrate the functionality of a computer system that tracks police behavior and a policy that requires some officers to disclose personal financial information.
In a lengthy morning hearing, Feess acknowledged that the LAPD had come a long way, but he refused to go along with the plan. He expressed doubt about doing away with the current decree and putting in place a new agreement that, he said, was too vague. The proposal, he said, left his authority over the department uncertain and did not make clear whether outside groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union would continue to have a say in the unresolved issues. Feess gave the attorneys a week to submit written responses to his concerns.
Attorneys for the ACLU of Southern California criticized the transition agreement, saying that it inadequately addressed unfinished reforms. They asked Feess to keep the consent decree in place.
When asked by Feess for his comments, federal monitor Michael Cherkasky said he believed that the push to end the decree stemmed from the negative “symbolic nature” of the agreement. The idea of continuing the consent decree, he said, has pushed the LAPD to a “psychological breaking point.” That idea seemed to hold little sway with Feess. “I don’t know there is anything anyone can say about that,” Feess said.
Police Chief William J. Bratton has made no secret of his desire to be done with decree, saying that the continued oversight hurts officers’ morale.
After the hearing, Bratton reiterated that idea. “It is time to move on,” he said.