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L.A. city task force sharply criticizes PD, urges reforms

The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES- A city task force says the Los Angeles Police Department is too small and needs to undertake major reforms to avoid another crisis like a corruption scandal that rocked the ranks seven years ago.

The review panel concluded in its report, issued Tuesday, that supervisors still fail to provide adequate oversight and control of officers, a problem during the 1999 scandal involving an anti-gang unit.

The panel also faulted the city's criminal justice system, saying it lacks sufficient checks to prevent officers from lying or fabricating evidence.

It called Los Angeles the most under-policed big city in the nation, saying the size of the police force is a major factor in tension between the police and some segments of the public.

For decades, "reports have noted that with too few officers to patrol the streets and to guarantee backup, officers use intimidation and fear to exert control over large geographic areas," the panel concluded. "And in high crime areas they counter increased danger with aggressive 'search and destroy' tactics that humiliate and alienate residents."

The report is a major challenge for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. A year into his term, he is struggling to increase the police force by 1,000 officers over the next five years, bringing the force to 10,200. He would have to hire three times that number to meet the goal set by Chief William J. Bratton, which was endorsed in the report.

The panel was appointed in 2003 by the city's Police Commission to examine the departments response to allegations of widespread abuse by officers from the Rampart Division's Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums (CRASH) unit, formed to crack down on street gangs.

Nine officers were criminally charged and 23 were fired or suspended, 156 felony convictions were invalidated because of suspected police misconduct and the city paid $70 million to settle civil rights lawsuits.

Among the panel's 28 recommendations, it said an outside group should investigate police abuse, and the size and independence of the Police Commission's inspector general's office should be expanded.

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