Copyright 2006 Los Angeles Times
All Rights Reserved
By PATRICK MCGREEVY
The Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES — In a potentially important affirmation of progress by the Los Angeles Police Department, federal civil rights lawyers are prepared to join with the city's attorneys in asking a judge to acknowledge the department's reform efforts and lift some of the demands imposed by a 5-year-old consent decree, city officials said Thursday.
The decree, which is up for review next month, is a legal settlement between the city and the U.S. Department of Justice to address concerns by federal attorneys that the LAPD, during the Rampart scandal and before, engaged in a pattern of brutality and corruption.
It imposes nearly 200 requirements on the LAPD, and the department has long chafed under some of those demands while also stressing that it is attempting to comply with them.
Negotiations were continuing Thursday on the wording of a joint filing, so it was uncertain how far federal attorneys would go in supporting the decree mandates the city wants lifted.
The prospect of a joint filing that would credit the city with progress and might argue for narrowing the scope of the decree heartens some top city officials, who see both practical and symbolic benefits.
They said the joint filing would demonstrate that the Justice Department shares the city's sense that good-faith efforts are underway to reform the LAPD, while on a practical level it might help persuade U.S. District Judge Gary A. Feess to lift some of the requirements in areas where the greatest successes have been achieved.
That would give the city greater flexibility in how it maintains existing reforms and could reduce the costs of complying with many of the remaining mandates.
"The joint filing will recognize that the city has been in substantial compliance with the majority of requirements and will identify others to be included in the extension," Deputy Mayor Maurice Suh said. "It shows we have a strong working relationship with the Justice Department. We think there is a higher likelihood that the court will take our request seriously."
However, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California said she is concerned that the momentum to maintain reforms may lessen if the consent decree is narrowed.
Catherine Lhamon said it would be preferable for the Justice Department to file separately from the city, because that would better enable the federal department to air any differences.
As all parties prepare for an important hearing May 15, few believe that the LAPD will emerge without any continuing obligations.
Feess has signaled he is likely to extend the consent decree by two years because the city has failed to enact dozens of reforms mandated by the document, including creation of a computerized tracking system for officer conduct.
Feess has given the city and the Justice Department until Monday to file papers on the extension matter. Although the federal attorneys have the legal right to file separate papers that conflict with the city's position, Suh said the two sides have agreed to file a joint document.
"The critical part of the extension is a recognition of what is behind us and what is before us and what is the plan to accomplish what remains," said Suh, the city's point person in negotiations with the Justice Department.
A spokesman for the Justice Department declined comment.
The city contends it has substantially complied with 149 of the decree's 191 requirements.
But even if the city and federal prosecutors can agree on much of the progress, court-appointed monitor Michael Cherkasky also will have a say. Cherkasky, in his most recent assessment, said the city had complied with 121 requirements.
Police Chief William J. Bratton said narrowing the scope of the consent decree could help improve police-community relations.
"Narrowing of the scope of the consent decree would be a reaffirmation that a good job has been done," Bratton said.
A narrower decree also could reduce the city's cost of providing attorneys and auditors to update the court on issues that have been substantially resolved. Complying with the decree has cost the city more than $10 million annually, including an $11-million, five-year contract with Cherkasky.
Officials ask judge to lift some LAPD reform requirements