A federal judge said the Los Angeles Police Department has made great strides in reforming itself but he will not rescind a decree mandating U.S. Justice Department oversight until several key issues are resolved.
Judge Gary Feess on Monday extended the existing consent decree for another two weeks rather than allowing it to expire on Tuesday.
The Justice Department favors ending the decree, which has been in place since 2001, when the government threatened to the sue over what it said was a pattern of police abuse dating back decades.
The judge, however, wants assurances on requirements mandating policies to eliminate biased policing, establishment of a system for evaluating police officers and provisions for certain officers to disclose their financial assets.
Feess gave Justice and police officials one week to respond in writing.
The Office of the Independent Monitor noted in its 150-page report that changes made in the LAPD in the last eight years "have made the LAPD better at fighting crime, reaching out to the community, training its officers, in its use of force, internal and external oversight and in effectively and objectively evaluating each of the sworn members of the LAPD."
Mike Cherkasky, the chief executive officer of USIS who has been acting as the independent monitor, recommended the consent decree be terminated, subject to the terms of a "transition agreement" insuring the final implementation of some lingering requirements -- including financial disclosure for officers in gang and narcotics units, a $50 million computer system that tracks all officer activities and in-car cameras that record officers when they make traffic stops.
Those items require continued compliance for the next two years.
"This report constitutes our final report and recommendation that the city of Los Angeles be found in substantial compliance with the consent decree," Cherkasky wrote in the report. "However, we recommend the termination of the consent decree with a caveat. The process and institutions that have been created must be nurtured and strengthened by the city family in the years to come.
"Benign neglect will endanger the hard-won progress that the LAPD has made."
Overall, the report paints a positive picture of the improvements that have been made by the department, noting that while the changes were being put in place, crime has dropped in Los Angeles.
"More specifically, the LAPD has become the national and international policing standard for activities that range from audits to handling of the mentally ill to many aspects of training to risk assessments of police officers and more," the report stated.
Police Chief William Bratton said earlier this month that he was "cautiously very optimistic" that U.S. District Judge Gary Feess will terminate the financially burdensome decree.
The decree's financial disclosure requirement, which was opposed by the union representing the LAPD rank-and-file, took effect earlier this year.
It requires that every two years, officers who routinely interact with gang members and drug dealers must report all of their personally and jointly owned assets, liabilities and income. Financial disclosure is intended to prevent corruption among officers who handle confiscated cash and drugs.
Since the policy was put in place, six or seven new officers have completed the disclosure requirement and applied to work in the affected units, according to Bratton. Officers who were already in gang and narcotics units have two years to comply with the requirement.
In South Los Angeles, 400 police vehicles have been equipped with the in-car video systems.
"It is our expectation that based on the experiences of other departments that we will be able to have clear-cut delineation of what occurred in a traffic stop in which a citizen makes a complaint against the department," Bratton said.
Ending the consent decree would help the LAPD save money on the federal monitors who are paid to oversee the police department. Those savings would come at a time when the LAPD is expected to take a $100 million hit to its $1.1 billion budget.
While the budget that is expected to be in place as the fiscal year starts on July 1 will allow Bratton to replace officers who retire or leave the department, it takes away money needed for promotions and civilian employees.
There are 300 vacant positions in the police department that would otherwise be staffed by civilians -- employees who are not police officers. Those who are with the LAPD will likely be required to take 26 unpaid days throughout the year to make up for an $18 million cut in salaries.
An average of 900 officers a year are promoted. Without that money -- and with a hiring freeze in place -- all promotions will have to be run by the Los Angeles City Council, the chief said.
"It is going to be a major problem," Bratton said. "I hope they bring their mattresses and pillows to the city council chamber because they're never going to be able to leave if they have to review every promotion because I'm going to continue to send promotion requests. One of the things I think (Judge Feess) will not want to tolerate is a reduction in supervision."