More than a decade after the U.S. Department of Justice began oversight of the Los Angeles Police Department following the Rampart corruption scandal of the 1990s, city and police leaders on Thursday celebrated the ending of that consent decree.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck joined members of the Police Commission at City Hall to discuss the dismissal of the 2001 LAPD consent decree.
"Our police department was once the poster child of a troubled department, a prime example of how not to police a big city," Villaraigosa said during the event. "It is now a national model for the command staff, the community and the cops on the street working together to turn a department around."
He said LAPD officials had taken the consent decree "to heart."
"They used it as a guide to change their culture," Villaraigosa said.
A federal judge formally dismissed the final remnants of the consent decree on Wednesday.
The city entered the agreement under threat of a federal lawsuit. The U.S. government had alleged a pattern of civil rights violations committed by police officers for decades.
The abuses came to light after the so-called Rampart scandal in which officers in an elite anti-gang unit were found to have beaten and framed suspected gang members.
Anthony Adams' case was one of dozens dismissed for police corruption in the Rampart scandal. He was stunned by the judge's actions.
"I think it's a very sad thing that they have done, not considering the people of Los Angeles that know that we do need oversight of LAPD," he said.
A whistleblower unveiled the scandal. Ex-Rampart police officer Rafael Perez's former attorney said he's surprised by the move.
"I really haven't seen any new Los Angeles Police Department," attorney Winson Kevin McKesson said. "I don't know what they're talking about that they've complied."
In two short sentences, U.S. district Judge Gary Allen Feess released the LAPD from a 2009 transition agreement meant to ensure reforms were kept in place.
"It has been a long ride," said Andrea Ordin, president of the Board of Police Commissioners.
She cited increased community policing, more diversity in the department and a new structure with increased civilian oversight.
"There’s lots more to do. We know that," Ordin said. "But it should be done by the department, through the leadership of this chief."
Standing by a poster displaying decreasing crime trends since the consent decree was implemented, Beck touted those numbers. He noted violent crime dropped by more than two-thirds since 2002.
He said the consent decree was a "catalyst" for change that the members of the department "believe" in.
"We’ve given the city back their police department," Beck said.
Before the news conference, Hector Villagra, executive director of the ACLU of Southern California, issued a statement commending the LAPD for progress. But he said the disparities in arrest number among races, as well as treatment of homeless people, continued to be cause for concern.
"The consent decree secured by the ACLU Foundation of Southern California and the Justice Department accomplished its purpose by and large. This is no longer your father’s Los Angeles Police Department," Villagra said. "However, the significant and persistent racial disparities in policing continue to raise grave concerns that African Americans and Latinos in Los Angeles are over-stopped, over-frisked, over-searched and over-arrested."
Villagra said the ACLU would work to ensure continued reform in the LAPD, through "if necessary litigation."