Chief William Bratton
Following the Consent Decree
It has been hailed a milestone in reforming the LAPD, but is it? Some in the Black community are raising valid questions about the soundness of judge’s actions: lifting the federal consent decree, since most agree, there is still work to be done.
By Yussuf J. Simmonds
Sentinel Assistant Managing Editor
The search is on! The city of Los Angeles is looking for a new police chief however, the selection must be placed within the context of continuing the work of the federal consent decree. There has been much speculation as to whether or not lifting the decree, after a mere seven years, was the proper thing to do despite objections from some prominent community leaders and organizations notwithstanding, the obvious changes for the better that have occurred within the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD).
The Sentinel spoke with Nathaniel “Nat” Trives, an expert in the area of monitoring a federal consent decree, policing and the Criminal Justice System. Trives is a former police officer, city councilman and mayor of Santa Monica; in addition, he has been a professor of Criminal Justice at California State University, Los Angeles, where he taught many law enforcement officers in the Southern California area; and finally, Trives was the monitor assigned by a federal judge to oversee the implementation of a consent decree within the San Francisco Police Department, which took 20 years. So, he is well qualified to comment on the workings of a federal consent decree as it relates to a police department.
The Sentinel also spoke with Chief William Bratton, who is a nationally recognized expert in the field of law enforcement and the one who is clearly responsible for the LAPD reforms consistent with the consent decree. He suddenly announced his resignation–as soon as the decree was lifted–to be effective at the end of October.
“The federal judge has the particular litigation under his or her jurisdiction and as a stipulation they go into a consent decree where both sides will agree to certain things without having to litigate it out in court,” Trives explained, “Certain goals are sought and hopefully met. The first job they have to do is find a special master or monitor to oversee the consent decree.” That was Trives’ job and he had to make periodic reports back to the judge.
“Then my job was to assemble all the parties to the decree and parse out what their issues were, with the way the department was being run, exams, assignments, etc., ” he continued, “All things that may have been covered under the litigation, and in my system–I don’t know if they used the same model in L.A.–we met monthly and we fashioned out different orders for the court, we came to agreements and took stipulations into the court, through the lawyers on both sides. We’d go into the court for a hearing and many times, the judge would call a hearing, there’d be a discussion and we’d come out with an order reinforcing something that we had pre-agreed upon.”
In explaining the way that consent decree was lifted, Trives said, “The parties get together and move for an ending of the decree. For example the city would say ‘we’ve met the requirements’ and then they go into court with evidence, such as demographic evidence of hiring or race mixing in the department relative to women and jobs, and once you’ve met the standards or come close to meeting them based on psychometric analysis, then the court could rule that you’ve met them.”
Usually the parties to a federal consent decree are the U.S. Justice Department, the police department (city, county or state) and then the people which could be any ethnic or other organization representing part or parts of the community. In lay terms, the consent decree is a plea bargain arrangement between the federal government and the police department–the police department is placed on probation and the federal government is its probation officer.
Trives summed it all up as, “the fine art of negotiation with “esperate”points of view.”
Chief Bratton started, “When I was hired by Mayor Hahn seven years ago, we committed to do five things.” Some of those things were “to reduce crime, to implement the consent decree and to keep the city safe against terrorism. On the issue of the consent decree, I embraced it and aggressively sought to get it implemented, and we have in fact done that. The judge (U.S. District Judge Gary A. Feess) gave us very high praise when we exited the consent decree,” Bratton said.
And for those who claim that seven years is not enough, they may have a valid point. Even Constance “Connie” Rice, the well respected civil rights attorney, who has praised Bratton’s work in recasting the LAPD’s approach to policing, wrote in a recent op-ed that no chief could completely alter the DNA of the LAPD in just seven years.
There is no shortage of praise for Bratton’s accomplishments not only with the consent decree but also in other areas. “I also campaigned to grow the size of the police force and we now have 1,000 more police officers than when I was appointed,” Bratton continued, “And that’s critical because it’s part of the reason all these other things are happening”–reduction in crime, high departmental morale and better relations with the community. “And lastly, at the same time we were committed to reducing crime, was to try and reduce race relations in the city.”
As it related to the unfinished work he was leaving behind, he said, “One of the things about policing is, we are always on a journey; we never truly get to a destination. One of the reasons that I could be comfortable leaving right now is that I have an incredible chain of people that I have worked with over the last seven years who’ve helped create this change.”
Since abruptly announcing his resignation, there has been a suggestion that Bratton may have colluded with Michael Cherkasky, the court-appointed monitor for the LAPD’s consent decree, to have the decree lifted. Bratton’s new job was tailor-made for him by Cherkasky pending his exit from the LAPD.
Bratton emphatically denied that any such arrangement took place saying, “There’s nothing to that; there is no substantiation or foundation to those stories or allegations. We have a very strict federal judge who has overseen this. Cherkasky worked for the judge and the judge is comfortable with this. Cherkasky and myself are people with very high integrity so that we are not about to risk our reputations by doing anything inappropriate.
“The federal judge, if he did not feel that the consent decree had not been met, would not have let us out from under it. He has also required that there are three areas that he is going to stay involved because he feels those areas have not met the three-year compliance that is required. So the judge is still staying involved; he is still going to use Mr. Cherkasky as his advisor. I can categorically refute any of those allegations by anybody that’s making them.”
The conversation shifted to the Officer’s Bill of Rights which many in the community believe has been used to shield countless uses of excessive and deadly force by law enforcement officers in general, and the LAPD in particular, especially in the Black community.
Bratton’s response: “The police officer’s bill of rights in California is a very significant piece of legislation that protects the rights of police officers; it’s the law of the land and there are many who are concerned–your publisher and many others–about some aspects of it particularly the idea of not being able to disclose the names of officers involved in citizens’ complaints. Do I agree with everything in it?” he said rhetorically and continued, “No, but at the same time, it is the law of the land. It has been the law of the land for quite some time and any time it has sought to be changed …. it’s up to the legislature to make that change. It is what it is and we all have to work with it.”