LOS ANGELES - The ACLU of Southern California will represent domestic violence and day laborer groups in a lawsuit defending a Los Angeles Police Department policy that is a cornerstone of community policing, a judge ruled Wednesday.

"The LAPD should be commended, not sued, for encouraging community policing," said ACLU/SC staff attorney Nora Preciado. "We are pleased that the judge is allowing members of the community affected by this case to participate in it."

Police officers credit the policy with improving relations between the department and vulnerable populations, according to an independent review in 2001. "Although immigrant trust of the LAPD remains an issue, many long-time LAPD officers stated that there is a marked difference in the attitude of the immigrant community respecting the LAPD since Special Order 40 was issued," the review panel reported.

Jessica Aronoff, executive director of Break the Cycle, one of the intervenors, said many of the women who seek help from her group are young Latinas, some of whom identify as undocumented residents.

'Many domestic violence victims are already terrified to talk to the police or take legal action to stop the abuse,' said Aronoff. 'For those who are undocumented or have a family member or a friend who is, the fear is compounded. Without Special Order 40, so are the odds that abusers will go free.'

Special Order 40, adopted in 1979, established that "undocumented alien status in itself is not a matter for police action" and that officers could not "initiate police action where the objective is to discover the alien status of a person."

LAPD leaders told the panel that Special Order 40 rules "strike an appropriate balance that meets LAPD's law enforcement needs, protect the rights of the immigrant communities" and allow for appropriate contacts between police officers and immigration officials.

Today, Los Angeles' foreign-born population is more than 40 percent of the city's total, according to the U.S. Census. In 1979, it was 27 percent.

The original lawsuit targeting the LAPD policy, Sturgeon v. Bratton, was filed in May in Los Angeles Superior Court. Special Order 40 is supported by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the police department, the City Attorney's office, the Los Angeles City Council, and many community and advocacy groups. The Institute of Popular Education of Southern California, Los Jornaleros and El Comite de Jornaleros are also interveners in the case.