November 18, 2003,
She was 20 years old when she was killed.
This young woman and her parents were the very embodiments of the American dream: Immigrants from a far-off land, they lived modestly in a working-class neighborhood in Los Angeles. The daughter attended college during the day and held down a job at night, and as she arrived home from work one evening she was set upon by two vicious predators, little more than animals, really, who shot her in the head and took her purse for the few dollars they would find inside. Her parents, roused by the din of sirens and the police helicopter circling overhead, came outside in time to see the paramedics pronounce her dead where she lay.
If there is any consolation to be found in this story it is in the manner in which some of my fellow police officers answered the call for help. The first officers to the scene broadcast a description of the killers provided by an eyewitness. Two other officers, armed with the description and their knowledge of the local gangs, raced to the area from miles away and began circling the blocks. Within two minutes they spotted and detained the suspects, the victim's blood still shiny and wet on one of their shoes. Solid, old-fashioned detective work at the crime scene and back at the police station further cemented the case against the pair, and today they are both locked safely away from civilized society, free to prey only upon the criminal rabble among whom they now reside. In short, it was a textbook case of how patrol officers, field supervisors, and detectives can work together to bring a satisfactory end to a horrific crime, providing the dead woman's parents with whatever small measure of comfort they can find in seeing the savages who murdered their daughter captured and punished.
Others today are not even as fortunate as this. The crime described above happened some time ago, before the implementation of the federal consent decree under which the LAPD now operates. If an identical crime were to occur in Los Angeles this very day (as is, sadly, very possible), the response may not be as swift, the outcome not as satisfactory. So mired are we in the mindless paperwork demanded by the consent decree that those same officers, supervisors, and detectives might be delayed in their response, allowing the killers those few extra moments that often separate a clean getaway from an arrest.
I don't mean to paint too bleak a picture here. Violent crime has decreased in Los Angeles, with homicides down 24 percent from a year ago. But this decline was not achieved due to the consent decree but rather in spite of it. The improvements can be traced to the installation of William Bratton as chief of police, replacing the much-reviled Bernard Parks, whose intransigence in the wake of the Rampart scandal led not only to his dismissal but also to the ridiculously burdensome demands of the consent decree. These demands have us working at far less than an optimum level, this despite the department's increased numbers and improved morale that accompanied the removal of Parks and his band of arrogant and incompetent underlings. For one thing, the increase in staffing has been more than absorbed by the hundreds of officers whose only duties are to audit and process paperwork related to the consent decree. Many of these paper pushers are of supervisory rank, resulting in the sort of conundrum that only a government bureaucracy can so expertly bring about: The most recent report of the independent monitor charged with overseeing implementation of the consent decree laments the lack of supervisory oversight for officers in the field, thus revealing an almost comical, Mr. Magoo-like myopia to the fact that it is the consent decree itself that keeps so many supervisors chained to their desks. And just as injurious to the fight against crime is the fact that nearly everything the typical street cop or detective does in the course of his workday is now complicated and delayed by the labyrinthian demands of the consent decree. A simple arrest that might once have taken a pair of officers two hours to process now takes four, and if even a slight amount of force is required to take an uncooperative suspect into custody the resulting paperwork can take days or even weeks to complete and pass through the various stages of review and approval.
An even more disturbing example of myopia can be found on page 41 of the monitor's most recent report. The consent decree requires LAPD offices to submit "field data reports," on which are recorded the age, sex, and ethnicity of nearly every person an officer encounters in the course of his duties, be it on a traffic stop or something more serious. Also recorded is the reason for the stop and whether any kind of search was conducted. "A statistical breakdown of the data," the report reads, "illustrates that African Americans and Hispanics are much more likely to be patted down and subjected to a search after being stopped than Caucasians. The Consent Decree requires the City to attempt to analyze the stop data in an effort to discover the reasons for this disparity."
Goodness knows how much the taxpayers of Los Angeles will pay for this analysis, but it won't cost anyone a nickel to read it here: According to the United States Census for the year 2000, the racial composition of Los Angeles is as follows: 30.64 percent white, 46.53 percent Hispanic, 11.14 percent black, and 10.74 percent Asian. There were 658 homicides committed in the city in 2002, the victims of which were 48 percent Hispanic, 41 percent black, 8 percent white, and 3 percent "other," i.e. Asians and Middle Easterners. Of the suspects identified in these crimes, 47 percent were Hispanic, 42 percent were black, 9 percent were white, and 2 percent were "others." The fact that the monitor requires an analysis to explain why Hispanics and blacks are searched more frequently than whites reveals either a slavish devotion to political correctness or a woeful blindness of the grim realities of crime in Los Angeles, either of which would seem to disqualify him from sitting in judgment of the officers who must daily contend with these realities.
In an Oct. 20 op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, Manhattan Institute scholar Heather Mac Donald called for an end to federal oversight of the LAPD. She cited some of the more absurd provisions of the consent decree and the even more absurd reasons the monitor has found the department to be out of compliance. "The LAPD could probably achieve full compliance with the consent decree," Mac Donald wrote, "if it reassigned hundreds more officers from crime-fighting to paper-pushing. Of course, violence in the city would explode." The Times limited Mac Donald to about 600 words, but she might have gone on for 6,000.
The Rampart scandal most certainly revealed glaring defects within the LAPD. Gang members were beaten, imprisoned, and even shot without legal cause, and no reasonable cop would argue that an overhaul of the department was unnecessary. But that overhaul was largely achieved with the hiring of William Bratton, arguably the most accomplished police administrator in the country. The boot marks lately seen on many commanding officers' southern regions are vivid testimony to Bratton's demand for accountability. The consent decree only undermines the chief's authority and his efforts to further reduce crime.
In a scene that would surely sadden the typical citizen of Los Angeles, especially if he happened to be a crime victim, a recent meeting of one LAPD division's supervisors was entirely given over to issues related to the consent decree. For more than two and a half hours the gathered captains, lieutenants, sergeants, and detectives spoke of nothing but the processing of paperwork. Not a single word was uttered about reducing crime or otherwise improving the quality of life for the people in the area they serve. A supervisor who attended the meeting described as "pathetic."
The people of Los Angeles deserve more from their police department. The price of all this bureaucracy will one day be measured in lives.
Jack Dunphy is an officer in the Los Angeles Police Department. "Jack Dunphy" is the author's nom de cyber. The opinions expressed are his own and almost certainly do not reflect those of the LAPD management.