Magazine article The Nation

LA: Call the Feds

Magazine article The Nation

LA: Call the Feds

Article excerpt

When Chief Bernard Parks of the Los Angeles Police Department heard the news in mid-May, he reportedly went into rigid shock. Seated across a table, the Justice Department's civil rights head, Bill Lann Lee, read to him and a handful of other officials a harshly worded communique. Lax management of the 10,000-member LAPD, said Lee, had permitted some officers to engage in a pattern of excessive force, false arrests and unreasonable searches. The federal ultimatum was unmistakable: Either Los Angeles agrees to a negotiated consent decree guaranteeing authentic police reform or Justice will sue to take over and manage the scandal-ridden LAPD.

Lee's bold intervention was greeted warmly by police reformers, who have seen their most strenuous efforts of the past decade thwarted by internal LAPD resistance and a feckless city administration. As the crisis deepened and calls for an external, independent investigation of the LAPD escalated, Mayor Richard Riordan, his handpicked Police Commission and Chief Parks bunkered together and essentially treated the scandal as a PR problem that would be resolved through internal channels. But Lee, a veteran of the Los Angeles NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, knew of the deep rot inside the LAPD from direct experience. Using a 1994 federal statute empowering Justice to take over out-of-control police departments and supported by four years of monitoring the LAPD, he moved to do what dawdling local officials wouldn't dare. "Bill Lee's message to the city was unmistakable," says local civil rights attorney Connie Rice. …

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