LOS ANGELES - The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California reported today on Los Angeles mayoral candidates' responses to the ACLU's questions about police reform. The report, which asked mayoral candidates questions concerning Rampart, the consent decree, structural reforms beyond the consent decree, and the problem of officer morale, reveals a general commitment to reform - with key differences on specific measures.
Four of the major candidates, Congressmember Xavier Becerra, State Controller Kathleen Connell, City Attorney James Hahn, and Speaker Emeritus of the California Assembly Antonio Villaraigosa, responded to the survey. Two of the major candidates, Councilmember Joel Wachs, and real estate developer Steve Soboroff, declined to participate.
"All four of the candidates who responded call for reforms that go beyond what the federal consent decree requires," said Ramona Ripston, Executive Director of the ACLU of Southern California. "This signals a huge shift from the current mayoral administration's position. Each of these candidates stated that he or she would have called for an independent investigation if he or she had been mayor. I don't think people realize what a momentous sea change this represents. The ACLU called for such an investigation from the beginning, and few listened. But less than two years later, four of the six major candidates share this opinion."
Other highlights of the survey include:
--Three of the four candidates, Becerra, Connell, and Villaraigosa, support creating an Office of Civilian Complaints, charged with the independent investigation of civilian complaints, staffed by trained civilian investigators, and funded at a level to make the swift and thorough investigation of all complaints possible. Connell suggests modeling the office on San Francisco's, with one civilian investigator for every 150 police officers (see http://www.ci.sf.ca.us/occ/ for more on the San Francisco model).
--All four candidates support providing the Inspector General with the authority to offer immunity to whistleblowers whose only offense may have been not reporting misconduct earlier - a reform steadfastly resisted by the current administration.
--Three of the candidates, Becerra, Hahn, and Villaraigosa, support increasing the Police Commission's role in setting disciplinary policy, and the other candidate, Connell, proposes that disciplinary policy should be set under a civilian review board.
--One candidate, Villaraigosa, called for a multi-jurisdictional investigation headed by the California Attorney General with the focus expanded to include other institutions implicated in Rampart, including the courts, the Public Defender, and the District Attorney.
--Three of the four candidates, Becerra, Hahn, and Villaraigosa, support the professionalization of one or more Police Commission posts.
Ripston pointed out that police reform has been a central civil rights struggle for Los Angeles for at least the last eight decades. In 1923, in fact, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, the first ACLU affiliate in the nation, was founded by Upton Sinclair, after he was arrested by the LAPD for reading the First Amendment at a rally of striking longshoremen.
Since that time, she noted, problems with the LAPD, have periodically burst into the public - Sleepy Lagoon in 1945, the Bloody Christmas scandal of 1951, the Watts riots of 1965, the Eulia Love killing in 1979, the Dalton Avenue police raid in 1988, the Rodney King beating in 1991, and the current Rampart scandal. But efforts to reform the Department, including the McCone Commission (1965), the Christopher Commission (1991), and the Bobb and Epstein report (1996), failed to take root, because they met with resistance from the Department, poor political follow-through, and structural impediments.
"The Rampart scandal and the federal consent decree that the Department's civil rights abuses triggered present Los Angeles with another critical opportunity to institute much needed-reform measures," said Ripston. "We need a mayor who will seize that opportunity, rather than shrink from it. At numerous points in Los Angeles' lamentable history of police abuse, strong political leadership might have made the difference. This is one of those moments, and we can't afford to squander it."