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Union Wins a Role in Reform of LAPD

April 23, 2002|HENRY WEINSTEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Los Angeles Police Protective League has the right to formally participate in implementation of the federal consent decree aimed at reforming the Los Angeles Police Department, a federal appeals court ruled Monday.

In addition, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals strongly suggested that several community activist groups, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, should also be able to participate in the process.

The 3-0 decision granting the Protective League formal status in the consent decree process overturns a ruling last year by U.S. District Judge Gary A. Feess, who is supervising the decree.

Monday's decision was a major victory for the league, which also had been spurned in its efforts to be part of the negotiations that led to the consent decree. The decision, however, was viewed with apprehension by some, including Mayor James K. Hahn, who say they fear the league will attempt to obstruct reforms.

"I am thrilled," said Costa Mesa lawyer Gregory G. Petersen, who represents the league. He said the 9th Circuit order would give the league the right to appear as a party in court, raise objections on how the decree is being implemented and to file appeals if it does not prevail on various issues.

Hahn said he would ask the city attorney's office to ask for a rehearing before a larger panel of 9th Circuit judges. He expressed concern that if the league became a formal party in the case it could hamper the reform process.

"I don't think we can allow the Police Protective League to be an obstacle to police reform," Hahn said. "If we are going to be subject to some kind of pressure by the police union to undo the path we are on to reform, I think that's the wrong thing to do."

Both the city and the U.S. Justice Department had opposed intervention by the league and the community groups.

In his decision last year, Feess acknowledged that the league, which represents nearly 9,000 rank and file officers, "has an important perspective on this action." But he said permitting the league formal status in the case would slow the process of reform.

The 9th Circuit disagreed, saying Feess' praiseworthy management of the case so far shows that he can handle it in a fair and expedient fashion even with the addition of other parties.

"More importantly," wrote Judge Sidney R. Thomas, "the idea of 'streamlining' the litigation," as urged by city officials and the Justice Department, "should not be accomplished at the risk of marginalizing those--such as the Police League and the Community Intervenors--who have some of the strongest interests in the outcome."

On the other hand, the appellate panel, which also included Judges James R. Browning and Johnnie B. Rawlinson, awarded one major victory to the city and the Justice Department. The judges said even though Monday's decision involves rulings made at the onset of the case, "our holding does not require the district court to turn back the clock or rescind the consent decree," which the Protective League had sought.

Rather, the appeals court said the league will have formal status in the case as soon as Feess issues a formal intervention order when the case is returned to him.

The decree, a response to the Rampart scandal, is designed to end what the Justice Department has termed "a pattern or practice" of civil rights violations by the LAPD.

Justice Department spokesman Dan Nelson said, "We are pleased that the consent decree remains in place and that reforms will continue. We are looking forward to the union's input into the process."

However, other sources said some in the department are quite disturbed about the ruling, which could alter the dynamics of the reform process.

The league already has made it clear that it strongly objects to one major requirement of the decree--having to collect data on the race and ethnicity of each motorist an officer stops. The data collection is required under the decree, as a means of helping to determine whether LAPD officers are engaging in "racial profiling."

On Monday, though, Petersen said the league considered it an act of racial profiling for the officers to gather the data.

ACLU legal director Mark D. Rosenbaum called Monday's ruling--which suggests that Feess should grant the community groups and 12 Los Angeles residents what is known as "permissive intervenor" status in the case--"a great victory."

Los Angeles residents, he said, "are the ultimate stakeholders in terms of the integrity of the consent decree" and need to have an opportunity to work with the city and independent monitor Michael Cherkasky in implementing the decree.

The groups are the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Los Angeles, Homeboy's, the Asian Pacific American Legal Center and Radio Sin Fronteras.

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