The Los Angeles Police Department was officially free of federal oversight Thursday for the first time since 2001 after a federal judge ended a consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice.
U.S. District Judge Gary A. Feess issued a two-sentence order Wednesday that formally ended the decree imposed in response to corruption in the department’s Rampart Division.
“The clerk is directed to close the file,” Feess wrote.
The consent decree compelled the LAPD to implement widespread reforms to resolve issues of excessive force, racial profiling, evidence tampering and perjury.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said the department “embraced” the requirements of the decree and increased officer ranks to take on community policing efforts, which he said strengthened trust in communities of color.
“A police department that was once the poster child for a troubled department, a prime example of how not to police a big city” is today a “national model,” Villaraigosa said at a City Hall news conference, where he was joined by LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and members of the police commission.
The consent decree initially placed the department under the oversight of an independent federal monitor. A 2009 order by Feess began a transitional period where the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners regained oversight authority over the department, but the consent decree remained in effect.
The transition agreement mandated that the department address hundreds of racial profiling claims, install video cameras in police vehicles, review financial disclosures by officers in the gang and narcotics units and continue monitoring for abuses in the gang suppression unit.
If the department failed to take action, Department of Justice attorneys could have returned the case to Feess for further action.
Even with the dismissal of the consent decree, “there’s lots more to do,” Andrea Ordin, president of the Board of Police Commissioners, said, “but it should be done by the department, through the leadership of this chief and through the leadership of the command staff and the civilian oversight.”
Officials Thursday linked a steady drop in the crime rate to the consent decree, which they said helped strengthen trust between the police and members of the communities.
“Crime reduction since the beginning of the consent decree is\ undeniable,” Beck said.
The public’s trust of the department was bolstered by an increase in officers that allowed for more community-based policing, Villaraigosa said.
“Our rank and file officers have overcome a legacy of suspicion and misunderstanding, and have built more trust and more respect and credibility in communities of color than ever before,” Villaraigosa said.
Vice President of the Police Commission John Mack said at one time the “LAPD’s ‘m.o.’ was an occupation force, particularly in the African American community.”
Mack, a civil rights advocate, was president from 1969 until 2005 of the Los Angeles Urban League, an organization that provides job training and other community services to the black community.
Tyler Izen, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union representing LAPD officers, praised the termination of the consent decree, saying he was “pleased” the department is no longer under the jurisdiction of a federal judge.
“Now we can begin looking for efficiencies in LAPD processes while at the same time maintaining the transparency the public deserves,” Izen said.
Hector Villagra, executive director of the ACLU of Southern California, an organization that has been critical of the police department, acknowledged Thursday that “this is no longer your father’s Los Angeles Police Department,” but “significant and persistent racial disparities in policing continue to raise grave concerns.”
Black and Latino populations, Villagra said, are still “over-stopped, over-frisked, over-searched and over-arrested.”