LOS ANGELES - In response to two Councilmembers' proposal to undo the LAPD consent decree, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California will appeal to the City Council to swiftly reject the proposal and, in addition, will appeal to all mayoral candidates to affirm their commitment to the decree, which has already been signed by the City of Los Angeles and the Department of Justice. The consent decree grew out of a pattern of police abuse and civil liberties and civil rights violations that came to light in connection with the Rampart scandal. The ACLU/SC was the first to call for federal intervention and recently insisted, along with noted legal scholar Erwin Chemerinsky and groups such as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, that local residents and groups needed a more direct role in monitoring enforcement of the decree. The ACLU filed suit last month to intervene on behalf of residents and community groups, alleging that full and vigorous enforcement of the decree would be endangered by President-elect Bush's open resistance to the U.S. Department of Justice's intervention in police-related civil rights cases, as well as the City's own history of backsliding from commitments it has made to reform the LAPD.
"Councilmembers Svorinich and Bernson propose to abort our first step toward real reform," said Ramona Ripston, Executive Director of the ACLU of Southern California. "Residents of Los Angeles need to hear unequivocally that our City Council and our would-be mayors oppose this measure and fully support the reform of a police department that has resisted meaningful change and held itself above the law for decades. To waste this opportunity for meaningful change is an affront to all those whose lives have been unjustly taken away or whose rights have been deprived by the Los Angeles Police Department."
Ripston also objected to the discussion of the matter in closed session.
"It is deeply troubling," said Ripston, "that police reform, which is fundamental to the safety and freedom of every Los Angeles resident, will be addressed without public input. The residents of Los Angeles need to be involved in this process if it's going to work. But this consent decree was hammered out behind closed doors and will now be revisited behind closed doors, shutting the vital voice of the public out."
Ripston noted that the Council Members' proposal to abandon the consent decree strengthens the ACLU's doubts about its full enforcement - doubts laid out in its suit last month to intervene in the consent decree on behalf of Los Angeles community groups and residents.
"It's clear that Svorinich and Bernson are emboldened by the prospect of Bush's indifference, if not hostility, to meaningful enforcement of federal civil rights laws," said Ripston. "This is a perfect example of why community members and groups should be part of the consent decree."