It’s been widely reported that the Los Angeles Police Commission contracted with the National Police Foundation to write a report on the Los Angeles Police Department‘s behavior during the recent May/June 2020 uprising in response to the May 2020 murder of George Floyd. The Commission and LAPD have been busy supplying the NPF with all the evidence they could ever desire.
Not quite so widely reported on is the Commission’s Advisory Committee on Building Trust and Equity. This group was convened in July 2020 to report back to the Commission with recommendations for reforming LAPD, Their report isn’t out yet, but recently I obtained a copy of a draft. It’s a very mainstream set of useless shopworn proposals that, in the words of renowned tweetist @banannaise, “mostly boils down to … tell[ing] the cops to be nice to people and … to stop breaking the law.”
Which was predictable given the Commission’s deferential attitude towards LAPD along with the unstated but obvious charge to the Committee to smooth things over as much as possible. But the fact that the Committee’s conclusions are predetermined doesn’t imply that they’re not committed to making the process look as valid as possible2 nor that much of their work, even if done in the service of appearing valid, is worthless.
As part of this work, then, the Committee is looking in detail at a huge range of existing police reform proposals, many of which LAPD has already tried, some voluntarily and some by court order. They’ve collected these proposals in a number of spreadsheets, also including LAPD-specific analyses, and I recently obtained copies of a number of these documents (and published them here on the Internet Archive).
Regardless of the value of the Committee’s final report3 these records are very interesting. Two of them, this 25 page list of LAPD reforms recommended by the 1991 Christopher Commission and this 74 page list of all LAPD reforms required by the 2001 Rampart Scandal Consent Decree, are extremely interesting.4 You can also view these files as HTML in your web browser. Click here for the Christopher Commission reforms and here for the Consent Decree reforms.
The Consent Decree list suggests that that LAPD’s compliance hasn’t been evaluated since circa 2008, when a court-appointed monitor reviewed the terms in preparation for the lifting of the Decree. Even at the time the LAPD was only selectively in compliance and by now, depending on how one measures compliance, things have not improved.
The police have a near-supernatural ability to adopt required reforms and create the appearance of compliance, but they subtly shift the terms so that in practice nothing really changes. New training requirements are easy to subvert, for instance. Cops, like many professionals, are adept at successfully completing compulsory training without substantially changing how they do their jobs.5
Likewise with new policies. LAPD will put them on the books, create new administrative positions to implement them, audit compliance with them, and so on. Inevitably, though, they find ways to work around their substance. The court’s monitor seems to have looked carefully at LAPD’s actual practices at the time but now, more than 12 years later, LAPD has managed to evade the intended effects of most of the reforms. For example, the Consent Decree required the Inspector General to review Categorical Use of Force Investigations and a section was duly added to the Department Manual:
IG Review of Categorical Use of Force Investigations: The Inspector General shall continue to review all Categorical Use of Force investigations. The IG also shall conduct a regular, periodic audit and review of a stratified random sample of: (i) all Non-Categorical Uses of Force; and (ii) Complaint Form 1.28 investigations. Both of these types of reviews shall assess the quality, completeness, and findings of the investigations and shall include determinations of whether the investigations were completed in a timely manner, summarized and transcribed statements accurately match the recorded statements, all available evidence was collected and analyzed, and the investigation was properly adjudicated. The IG shall promptly report its findings from these reviews in writing to the Commission.
In 2008 the court’s monitor reported that the Department was in compliance with this requirement. The monitor didn’t just check to see that appropriate language was added to the Manual, but instead actually looked at what was happening in practice, with the actual reviews. The document quotes the monitor thus:
“[T]he OIG completed its first compliant review of complaint investigations in March 2006.” “Since that time, the Monitor concurred with most of the OIG’s findings and concluded that the OIG continued to submit quality reviews of CUOF incidents, NCUOF incidents and complaints . . . .”
And this process still goes on. The OIG reviews every single one of the LAPD’s categorical use of force investigations and produces a detailed report on each incident that’s prepared separately from the police version. And even if the monitor concurred with the OIG’s findings in 2008, in 2020 they don’t differ from the LAPD’s findings significantly. At least the outcomes for the officers don’t differ. So is LAPD compliant?
Well, yes in the sense that there’s a rule and they’re following it. But no in the sense that the rule was intended to change certain LAPD behaviors but has failed to do so. Instead of submitting to actual independent oversight by the Inspector General or the Police Commission and that oversight making LAPD’s use of force investigations more plausible to the public, LAPD has shifted their relationships with the OIG and the Commission so that none of the oversight is independent, not really oversight at all. Having accomplished this they can follow the rule precisely while avoiding the rule’s intended effect.
The Christopher Commission document is roughly similar, although it seems to be Eileen Decker evaluating the current state of compliance rather than a court-appointed monitor in 2008. The fact that this contains Decker’s work6 is essential. The document includes space for both “Notes” and “Further Recommendations” and the views of the President of the Police Commission on these items is crucial to understanding whether the Commission is capable of reforming LAPD or even if that’s what they intend to do. The very first item is as urgent now as it was forty years ago when the Commission published its recommendations:
The leadership of the LAPD must give priority to curbing excessive force – through the use of powerful incentives and disincentives that influence police behavior. Police Commission audits and review of the excessive force problem must be accompanied by a firm resolve to accord this issue the priority it requires in the LAPD’s policies and goals.
And Decker’s opinion is that the compliance status here is “Ongoing”. To back this up she lists a bunch of LAPD policies as evidence of compliance, including policies requiring training. And they’ve done a lot of training over the last 40 years, but they haven’t trained away LAPD’s addiction to excessive force.
You and I know that policies and trainings don’t change much at LAPD but it’s hard to see Decker believing that. Nevertheless, as committed as Decker is to exonerating LAPD overall, she does note that maybe it would help to “add a de-escalation policy.” Also, as Questions to be answered Decker asks “Discipline — is it appropriate?” and “What incentives/disincentives can be added or emphasized?”
So here we are, forty years after the Christopher Commission, forty years after the brutal LAPD attack on Rodney King, and the President of the Police Commission is wondering whether it’s appropriate to discipline officers for violating the excessive force policy. That doesn’t seem like progress and it really doesn’t seem like oversight.
It also doesn’t seem like policies and training can really solve this problem given that forty years after that particular attempt to reform LAPD the progress is merely “ongoing.” In fact the status of all these items, when not blank, is either “ongoing,” “needs improvement,” or “done.”
But the only ones that seem to be marked “done” involve a concrete action, like adopting a policy or requiring some training or hiring more staff in some area or creating a Community Relationship Division. These can all be implemented without affecting practice or else worked around by the police. The ones that aren’t done with are the important ones, the ones that can’t be fixed with another policy or some more training or creating a new division and staffing it.
Like excessive force, discussed above. Like eliminating racism in the Department. There are policies prohibiting racism, there are anti-racist trainings, and yet the Department still employs racists at all levels. To implement these reforms, the undone ones, currently employed officers must change their behavior. Like all people, though, they don’t want to change, and the only methods effective for behavior change, like discipline and termination, aren’t really possible given the City’s agreements with the Los Angeles Police Protective League.
Until it’s possible to fire racist officers because they’re racist LAPD’s racist officer problem won’t be solved. The same is true for the rest of the more complicated reforms, the ones that require behavior changes. But Decker’s approach, to list policies as if they were evidence of compliance, is useless. The last forty years of LAPD’s history as recorded in this document make that very clear. The fact that it’s the only approach the Police Commission is taking means that this ongoing reform process, whatever it was intended to accomplish, isn’t going to lead to significant reform of LAPD. Not that we didn’t know that already, of course, but how unpleasant, yet how necessary, it is to see it all laid out like this.
- Its real name.
- The members of the Committee may well be committed to making the process actually be as valid as possible, but it won’t affect the nature of the final report. Obviously the Commission knows how to pick Committee members who fundamentally agree with the predetermined conclusions. No one has to feel like a sell-out at this late date.
- And I find it hard to believe it’ll have much.
- The linked-to versions are PDFs which I exported from the original MS Word files. The originals are also available here for the Christopher Commission and here for the Consent Decree.
- Or even remembering anything at all they were trained on.
- As it almost surely does.