Has Bratton's LAPD Really Reformed? | The Nation


Has Bratton's LAPD Really Reformed?

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Tom Hayden
Senator Tom Hayden, the Nation Institute's Carey McWilliams Fellow, has played an active role in American politics and...

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A May 2009 Harvard University study, requested by Bratton, contains relevant evidence on the continuing disparities in policing under the LA consent decree. While very favorable to the LAPD, the sixty-eight-page report never mentions gangs. It is more concerned with the question of whether the consent decree has undermined police work. The authors' answer is no: reform and "law and order" go hand in hand.

A careful reading reveals the following:

•On the issue of non-categorical force (stun guns, bean bag shotguns, non-lethal use of force to gain compliance, etc.), there was a 17 percent increase in the LAPD's Central Bureau between 2006 and 2009.

•"A troubling pattern in the use of force is that African Americans, and to a lesser extent Hispanics, are subjects of the use of such force out of proportion to their share of involuntary contacts with the LAPD."

•Stops by LAPD officers rose from 587,200 in 2002 to 875,204 in 2008, a jump of 49 percent. Total pedestrian stops doubled in six years while the number of vehicle stops rose 40 percent.

•The greatest increases in stops took place in gang territories, the Central, Southeast, Newton and Hollenbeck divisions. Times columnist Tim Rutten tries to explains this surge as "the department's attempt to ensure that black and Latino Angelenos have equal access to public safety." But as Rampart Reconsidered points out, these are the zones where the gloves are most likely to come off. The LAPD inspector general, Andre Birotte, said last year that "they are still beating heads" in South Central Los Angeles, while police violence had declined in the heavily monitored Rampart precinct.

•Hispanics were 43 percent of all persons stopped in 2002 and 48 percent in 2008. Blacks made up 36 percent of all pedestrians stopped.

•Between 2002 and 2008, the likelihood of arrest "nearly doubled" for both pedestrians and car stops. The total number of LAPD arrests increased 18 percent from 2002 to 2008, from 147,605 to 173,742.

•Part One index crime offenses (non-negligent homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, car theft) declined to 15 percent of all LAPD arrests in 2007.

•"Steep increases" in arrests occurred in so-called Part Two (less serious) offenses such as disorderly conduct, prostitution, DUI, etc.

•In conclusion, "these steep increases in Part Two arrests represent police management decisions to use arrest powers more aggressively for less serious crimes." This leads to 395 arrests per day in Los Angeles, including ninety-eight drug arrests, plus another 298 arrests per day for what the Harvard report deems "minor crimes."

This innocuously phrased conclusion should set off alarm bells among decision-makers. The LAPD's choice to crack down on at-risk underclass youth for minor infractions means the department is setting social policy. "The number of juveniles arrested for Part Two offenses...is about twice what it was in 1990." Instead of funding youth programs like sports, tutoring, training, therapy, drug treatment and decent jobs, the paramount policy in the inner city is aggressive policing for the purposes of containment and populating the database. According to city figures, last year there were 93,000 young people between the ages of 18 and 25 who were out of work and out of school. Aggressive policing without alternatives only aggravates their alienation. These are the neighborhoods where Alex Sanchez grew up.

As an example, two months ago, the LAPD made out a field investigation card on Alex Sanchez for simply standing on a street corner; the FI card made its way into the prosecution's argument that Alex was leading a large racketeering organization. All is fair, apparently, in the war on gangs.

Rampart Reconsidered concluded:

In the most dangerous neighborhoods, children test at civil war levels for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Incarceration rates in these poorest communities are high. And with no rehabilitation, two-thirds will fail the parole gauntlet and return to prison--repeatedly. Not that there are many jobs anyway. The economy in these areas is largely underground with much of it illegal.

Bratton's policing doctrine places a primary emphasis on numbers of stops, frisks and arrests, creating a further pressure on cops to pick up stray youth to meet their quotas. Police officers interviewed for Rampart Reconsidered emphasized the need to increase "the arrest numbers they believe are needed for promotion." That meant numbers in the inner city, not among Westside youth.

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