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DON'T LET LOS ANGELES BIG-WIGS SELL US ALL OUT AGREEING TO THE FEDS' PROPOSED CONSENT DECREE A PERILOUS IDEA.

Byline: Michael P. Rives

'THEY are in serious trouble now,'' said the wife of an ex-Los Angeles Police Department officer when discussing the possible imposition of federal monitoring of the police department. We in Los Angeles may be in the same condition.

A political appointee, Assistant Attorney General Bill Lann Lee of the U.S. Department of Justice, itself a source of questionable scandal, investigations and raids at Waco and Miami, informed the city attorney of alleged violations of the U.S. Criminal Code. Lee said that his department has been investigating the Los Angeles Police Department for four years.

He gives no hint for the timing of his remarks, but given the state of the Justice Department, isn't this a case of the kettle calling the pot black?

Speculation also abounds that the City Council and City Attorney James Hahn will agree to a consent decree issued by Lee's agency, but has anyone stopped to think about implications and consequences if the city agrees with the feds?

First of all, Lee in his letter to Hahn quotes federal statutes passed recently to deal with possible police agency abuse throughout the country. Lee uses the word ``allegations'' and ``no determination with regard to those allegations.''

Lee doesn't mention the Constitution, which says those powers that are not given to the national government are reserved for the states. Chief among powers is police powers. Neither does he add anything about due process for the citizens of a community who deserve their day in court.

All of the above are quite significant, because if the City Council, on the recommendation of Hahn, decides to accept federal monitoring and the Justice Department agrees, the Justice Department is agreeing to the fact that the local authorities do have the police power to act. If the local government can act because of its police powers guaranteed by the Constitution, it is incumbent for all concerned to be given due process, according to the Constitution. This means their day in court. In this case, it would be the citizens of Los Angeles. The Constitution is not multiple choice. It is all or nothing for everybody.

Are we being subjected to the reasoning of the same type of upper-echelon lawyers who failed us in the City Attorney's Office and District Attorney Gil Garcetti's office? They were negligent in screening the misdemeanor and felony cases brought before them.

This time the lawyers are in the federal justice system, and just like their local counterparts, they may be setting land mines for us.

First of all, if the city of Los Angeles agrees to consent decrees, aren't we admitting to blanket guilt for all misdeeds of a few officers who may have been guilty of crimes? Does this mean we accept civil responsibility and have to pay without a trial the claims of persons, who may have been guilty of the Criminal Code, if not for the negligence of officers?

Have we forfeited our opportunity to handle the police powers of our community in violation of the Constitution?

In our haste to agree, are we agreeing to deal with a Justice Department that in the minds of some shows the appearance of impropriety in its investigations of its own administration? Also, are we forfeiting the opportunity to deal with a new Justice Department in January 2001 that won't be colored by scandals itself? In addition, the current projected cost for the county of $11.4 million to handle the Rampart scandal will certainly skyrocket if the city admits unmitigated guilt plus the hundreds of millions to pay the civil suits. Is the Justice Department going to absorb our costs if we agree with their unproved allegations?

Secondly, maddeningly also, is the fact that the current unrest in L.A. city government seems to validate the claims of those who want to dismantle Los Angeles because of unresponsive and dictatorial decisions made by the L.A. city government.

Will acceptance of a federal decree hasten the end of the city and defeat the purpose of any decree? After all, a new city in the San Fernando Valley would supposedly not be under the guise of conditions decreed on the LAPD because it would have its own police department. Thereafter, the remaining city of Los Angeles, half the size, would continue to foot the bill for a federal consent decree.

Third, it is infuriating that the allegations made against the Police Department may involve racial discrimination. The Police Department has been under a decree for years to create diversity in its ranks with more minorities and females. In a city with no majority now, a simple glance at the nearest LAPD black-and-white cruiser will testify to its success. Now we are led to believe that these same officers are guilty, as a group, of racial discrimination upon others when they themselves are from varied backgrounds? Shouldn't this be challenged case-by-case to uphold the honor of the city and officers involved?

Finally, it is disappointing to discover that the very people who share blame because of their lack of vigilance, City Attorney Hahn and the City Council, seem to be eager to ``pass the buck'' to the feds. The LAPD belongs to the people of Los Angeles. Can some nameless bureaucrat handle the restoration of our honor 3,000 miles away in Washington?

In the meantime, our women and men in blue must go to work each day not knowing whether they will meet a bank robber, a rapist or a freeway chase suspect. Most do say a silent prayer at the beginning of their watch for God's help in returning them home safely.

Maybe we all should say a prayer for them and this city of Los Angeles during all this turmoil. We are dealing with the honest-to-goodness lives of 4 million souls of one of the greatest cities in the world. Our burden is heavy.
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Title Annotation:Viewpoint
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 21, 2000
Words:985
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