By Andrew Dalton
LOS ANGELES — A federal judge released the Los Angeles Police Department from a decade-long consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice that was aimed at ensuring reforms after a corruption scandal.
The city had been forced into the agreement under threat of being sued by the Justice Department's civil rights division.
City officials heralded the decision, which drew criticism from the American Civil Liberties Union.
The ruling by U.S. District Judge Gary Allen Feess also approved a proposed transition agreement requiring the department to report on its reform progress to the Los Angeles Police Commission. Feess said the court will keep jurisdiction over the agreement.
Spawned by the so-called Rampart scandal - which centered on allegations of corruption in an anti-gang unit - the U.S. government alleged a pattern of civil rights violations.
The decree mandated more than 100 reforms and appointment of an outside monitor.
The reforms included improved training, a better system of monitoring officers' performance, increased oversight of the anti-gang unit and a ban on racial profiling.
Feess said in his decision that the circumstances confronting the court have "changed substantially," and that when the decree was issued the "LAPD was a troubled department whose reputation had been severely damaged by a series of crises."
Feess cited a statement from the Office of the Independent Monitor that oversaw the decree, which said that the "LAPD has become the national and international policing standard for activities that range from audits to handling of the mentally ill to many aspects of training to risk assessment of police officers and more."
Mary Grady, spokeswoman for police chief William Bratton, said the chief was pleased with the judge's decision and thought it was overdue.
"The chief believed several years ago that we should have been released from it," Grady said.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa congratulated Bratton and the nearly 10,000 members of the police force.
"It is truly a new day at the Los Angeles Police Department. The shackles of a necessary but burdensome federal consent decree have been broken, but the benefits of reform have already been realized," he said, referring to seven straight years of declining crime rate.
The ACLU had argued for continuing the consent decree.
"We're disappointed," Mark Rosenbaum, legal director of the ACLU of Southern California said in a statement.
He acknowledged the department made substantial progress under Bratton, but said there remained "too much evidence that skin color makes a difference in who is stopped, questioned and arrested by the LAPD."
The new transition agreement, which had been proposed by the Police Department and the Justice Department, keeps the federal court's jurisdiction over three elements of the decree: a training evaluation and management system, the elimination of biased policing, and the implemenation of financial disclosure requirements.
The City Council agreed to the consent decree in November 2000 and implementation began months before Feess approved it the following June.
Expected to last five years, it instead was extended to eight years as the Police Department sought to change an image dating back to the violent 1991 arrest of Rodney King and the 1992 riot triggered by acquittal of officers charged with his beating.
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The decree persisted all the way through Bratton's widely praised first five-year term and even after his performance won him a second term in 2007.