A group of civil rights advocates on Tuesday pressed the Los Angeles Police Commission to establish an independent commission to investigate their claims that police selectively enforce laws to harass gay men and women.
According to several speakers, LAPD officers target gays, their businesses and their communities with undercover operations aimed at citing people for lewd conduct and other offenses.
"There is a widely and strongly held view . . . that the LAPD chooses to enforce laws against people who are or are perceived as being lesbian or gay in a stricter and harder fashion than against people who are not," said Myron Dean Quon, an attorney with the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund.
Police Commission President Edith Perez said the civilian panel will "take a serious look" at the allegations to determine whether an independent commission is needed.
Meanwhile, LAPD officials said the department already is investigating similar concerns that were brought to Chief Bernard C. Parks' attention several months ago by the Gay and Lesbian Law Enforcement Advisory Council, which meets regularly with LAPD representatives. As a result, Parks formed a task force involving community leaders and LAPD officials.
"We are anxious to review any issues of concern," said LAPD spokesman Dave Kalish. "Chief Parks strives for continuous improvement in all the department's relations with the community."
Cmdr. Scott LaChasse, who is the department's vice coordinator, said the LAPD does not selectively target the gay community for enforcement of lewd conduct violations, but merely responds to public complaints about problems.
"A lot of what we are fighting is a perception problem. People generally cite things that happened years ago," he said.
The civil rights activists who confronted commissioners Tuesday said the LAPD can't be trusted to investigate itself.
"The best remedy to this problem is to have a qualified, independent body examine the issue," Quon said.
If the commission refuses to appoint such a panel, the activists said, they may sue the LAPD. Among the group's main contentions--which were made in public statements and in a petition to the commission--are that LAPD officers use "gay-baiting and luring tactics" to entrap mostly gay men into committing illegal acts.
They cited cases in which vice officers "role play" as if they are interested in having sex with gay men, entrapping them into lewd acts. They charged that heterosexual conduct is rarely the subject of such vice operations.
"How many attractive, scantily clothed, female vice officers [are sent] into the park in an attempt to solicit a lewd act from a straight man?" the group asks in its petition. "Are female officers working the streets outside straight bars, leering and gesturing, in an attempt to lure straight men into their car so they can be arrested for lewd solicitation?"
According to the petition, LAPD officers also enforce anti-cruising laws more vigorously in gay communities than elsewhere. And, the petition contends, officers strategically position themselves outside gay bars and businesses so they can shine their spotlights on gays and cite them for any traffic violation, such as jaywalking.
To prove their allegations of selective enforcement, gay rights activists--including the Gay and Lesbian Action Alliance--have sought access to the department's arrest reports. The LAPD, however, has denied the request.
"Petitioners and the gay community believe that those arrest reports will show a pattern of unequal and homophobic tactics used by LAPD vice," the group contends in the petition.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California joined the other civil rights advocates in calling for an independent commission that it hoped would be modeled after the 1991 Christopher Commission, which investigated excessive force issues after the beating of Rodney G. King.
The issue of police treatment of gays and lesbians is a long-standing source of conflict, both in Los Angeles and in other parts of the country. For decades, the LAPD resisted hiring gay officers, fueling the department's reputation for hostility toward gays and lesbians and heightening sensitivity about complaints against officers accused of homophobia.
Recently, the city agreed to pay $1.2 million to settle a pair of lawsuits claiming that the LAPD harassed gay officers within the force. Last year, the city paid out $87,000 to a man who said an LAPD officer struck him in the face during a gay rights protest.
Lawsuits alleging police abuse against gays continue to roll into the city attorney's office. Two months ago, Barry Steiger, an openly gay actor, filed a suit alleging that two officers beat him because of his sexual orientation during a routine traffic stop. He was pulled over, he said, because he unknowingly honked his horn at an undercover car that had pulled out in front of him.
"I couldn't have been treated more poorly. I was put in a chokehold" and repeatedly called a derogatory name, Steiger said Tuesday. "I don't trust police anymore. I get chills when I see a cop car."