Friday, February 17, 2006

Mayor Villaraigosa And His Police Commission Are Making A Disappointing Start

To its credit, the L.A. Times editorial page takes a clear stand this morning for the public identification of LAPD officers involved in shootings or other violent acts, and the editorial is backed up by an op-ed page column by former USC law professor Erwin Chemerinsky, who is now at the Duke Law School.

Chemerinsky notes, "Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa campaigned for office, in part, on promises to reform the LAPD. It is particularly disappointing to see him break this promise by caving in to pressure from the police union and supporting reinstatement of a secrecy policy that was rejected more than a quarter of a century ago."

As a supporter last year of Villaraigosa's election, I too am very disappointed that what was supposedly going to be a progressive police commission, with such members as civil rights activist John Mack and Andrea Ordin, begins its tenure with such a retrogressive step.

I remarked to a friend in the judiciary this morning that it smacks of a behind-the-scenes deal and one that should, indeed, be strongly resisted. It seems to me that maybe a new police commission had been snowed into a stupid decision by a city attorney, Rocky Delgadillo, who is running for higher office and may have made a foolish promise to the police union. Delgadillo, no great city attorney, is running against Oakland Mayor and former Gov. Jerry Brown for state attorney general in the Democratic primary, and very likely wants to use all this to assail Brown.

A more sophisticated L.A. Times editorial than the one written this morning might very well have raised a question about Delgadillo and the Police Commission action in this context.

Openness about police conduct is far more important than a politician's aspirations for higher office, and there is every likelihood that the prospect of bad personal publicity serves as an important deterrent to unsavory shootings by police officers.

This is a matter which deserves, indeed, more than a Times editorial. Progressive elements of the community, including the minorities and civil liberties spokespersons need to be speaking out in a strong way, to provide counterbalancing forces within the Los Angeles Police Commission, so that it will reverse itself.

The Times editorial this morning calls for legislation to make the law clear that identification of police officers in such matters is a matter of public policy. Yet legislation takes time, and it is worth noting that we have a governor who has already shown a weakness for catering to special interests.

In short, it might be a long time, under the present political environment, before corrective action is taken to reestablish in Los Angeles a policy which has been followed for a long time anyway. The way to reestablish it is for Villaraigosa to intervene and send a clear public signal to his police commissioners that they should act in the public interest in this situation.

Given Los Angeles history, two terrible riots and a record of discrimination and brutality on the part of the LAPD, a reestablishment of secrecy to protect possibly errant officers is a very bad policy. It should not be re instituted.

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