Clear LAPD policy, adopted over two decades ago, was flagrantly violated by Rampart CRASH officers when they arrested former gang member Alex Sanchez on an INS warrant. Sanchez is now a peacemaker, working to bring about gang truces and provide training and job opportunities to former gang members. What possible justification can the police have for going after gang violence prevention efforts instead of enforcing laws against gang violence?Worse yet, the officers appear to have been acting in retaliation against Mr. Sanchez for his testimony last September before a State Senate committee investigating police abuse against former gang members.
Investigations in the corruption scandal rocking the Rampart CRASH unit have revealed a pattern of arrogance, intimidation and lawlessness. We now add retaliation for public exposure of police abuse to the appalling list. If the police have their way, Alex Sanchez will not speak out again, sending a clear message to all victims of police abuse, documented and undocumented: “If you know what’s good for you, don’t talk.” These most recent CRASH unit actions drive a stake through the heart of our democratic system of government.
Special Order 40, enacted in 1979, bars police from enforcing federal immigration laws. The Police Commission and top LAPD officials strongly re-affirmed the Order just three years ago.
Special Order 40 is essential. Immigrants are disproportionately the target of crime. Victims and witnesses concerned that they will be questioned about their immigration status – or arrested and turned over to INS officials by the police – will refuse to come forward. The result is inevitable: immigrants will become easy prey for criminals who know the victims will not report offenses to the police for fear of being deported.
I have great respect for the integrity and good faith of the Police Commission and its president, Gerald Chaleff. We are pleased to see some movement from the Commission on police reform, but this proposal is still no substitute for the creation of a truly independent panel. The Police Commission has proposed assembling a group of experts to help it review the Board of Inquiry report, and, eventually, discuss ideas for reform. Essentially, this group’s mandate and the parameter of its inquiry will be set by the Commission, and to a large extent by the Board of Inquiry report itself.
The Police Commission is part of the department and part of the problem. It can no more be given the sole responsibility for examining itself than could Chief Parks.
The way to real reform is through an independent civilian inquiry – just as the way to clean police practices is through meaningful, on-going civilian oversight. The Commission’s report says that this is their defining moment, but the defining moment for the Commission came a long time ago, when the LAPD dug in its heels against the civilian review process. Now, nothing short of a truly independent panel will get the people of Los Angeles the civilian oversight mechanism and the police department they deserve.