ACLU/SC Says LAPD Has Not Addressed Root Causes Of Last Year's Melee

May 1, 2008 12:00 am

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LOS ANGELES – One year and numerous investigations later, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) has still not addressed the root causes of last year’s melee in MacArthur Park in which hundreds of peaceful demonstrators and journalists were beaten and injured by LAPD officers, according to the ACLU of Southern California.

In a status report filed today in U.S. District Court, ACLU/SC attorneys charge that despite a clear department policy against excessive use of force, the officers and supervisors of the Metropolitan Division, who were in charge of keeping the peace, had “drifted towards not merely a practice but a trained policy of unconstitutional use of force for peaceful demonstrators.” What makes this finding so troubling, the report continues, is that it fits with longstanding critiques of the LAPD as an institution where such behavior is condoned.

These conclusions by the ACLU/SC are based in part on the LAPD’s own May Day report, released in October of 2007 which states: “…Some of the officers and supervisors in MacArthur Park believed baton strikes could be used to compel a person to disperse, even if they were merely standing in front of the officers, failing to respond to direction.” The LAPD report further criticizes the absence of oversight, which “allowed the quality and content of Metropolitan Division’s training to degrade over time…Further evidence revealed that some policies were taught incorrectly….”

“What is remarkable here is that after an entire year, they have failed to examine how training and practice in the department’s elite Metropolitan Division degraded,” said Mark Rosenbaum, legal director of the ACLU/SC. “That is a crucial question for a department now subject to a consent decree aimed at rooting out a culture of unconstitutional practices and excessive force.”

In 2000, in response to corruption scandals surrounding the department’s Rampart Division, the U.S. Justice Department found that officers routinely violated the constitutional rights of Los Angeles residents. The findings led to a consent decree that installed a special monitor to insure the department would make necessary reforms. The ACLU/SC, which is a party to the decree, is asking the court to direct the independent monitor to investigate how the training in the Metropolitan Division failed and recommend changes to insure this doesn’t happen in the future.

“In the last year the LAPD has made a number of positive changes in its approach to crowd control tactics and training,” said Peter Bibring, staff attorney for the ACLU/SC, “but until the LAPD finds out how officers came to believe this kind of unconstitutional conduct was appropriate, incidents of excessive force by officers will continue.”

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