Liberal Democrat May Seek Federal Oversight of California Cops

January 12, 2010 - 8:46 AM
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) says she's alarmed by the number of people killed by police in the Southern California city of Inglewood and will look into getting a federal court to oversee the department.
Inglewood, Calif. (AP) - A California congresswoman said she's alarmed by the number of people killed by police in the Southern California city of Inglewood and will look into getting a federal court to oversee the department.
 
Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Los Angeles, said she will inquire into a possible federal consent decree in the wake of U.S. Justice Department findings that the Inglewood department's use-of-force policies are vague, outdated and possibly unconstitutional.
 
"These deaths are the result of the failed policy," Waters told the Los Angeles Times for a story published Monday.
 
Police officials and city attorneys plan to review the Justice Department's recommendations and respond publicly in writing with further information, clarifications and an explanation of the police department's accomplishments and reforms to date, officials said in a statement.
 
"We're doing everything that we need to make sure the community can maintain its trust," Inglewood Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks told the Times.
 
A Times investigation last year found that five of the 11 people shot and killed by Inglewood police between 2003 and 2008 were unarmed. They included a man stopped for public drinking who was shot in the back when an officer thought he was reaching for a gun, and a homeless man killed after reaching for a toy gun in his waistband.
 
A court consent decree could require the department to show a federal judge and an independent monitor that it had made progress in making reform.
 
The Los Angeles Police Department operated under such a decree for eight years after Justice Department findings of corruption and racial discrimination. The decree was lifted in 2009.
 
Los Angeles County's Office of Independent Review spent a year reviewing the Inglewood police, but the City Council has refused to make the findings public despite protests.
 
The 220-member force operates in a small city south of Los Angeles that is notorious for gang violence.
 
The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California called for an overhaul of Inglewood's civilian review board and reforms to fix the police department's "deep-seated and structural flaws."
 
"Its standards for use of force do not meet legal requirements, its systems for reporting and reviewing uses of force are inadequate, supervisors lack control over officers, and the process for receiving and evaluating civilian complaints is erratic. The result is a broken system that fails the residents of Inglewood and costs lives," said ACLU staff attorney Peter Bibring.
 
In a letter to the city's mayor last month, the Justice Department called for changes in officer training and oversight and said some reforms being proposed were inadequate.
 
The department created an apparent conflict of interest by routinely assigning certain excessive force investigations to the same supervisors who wrote or approved the initial police report, the Justice Department concluded.
 
Officers also need more training on how to deal with people who appear to be mentally ill or under the influence of drugs or alcohol, the letter said.
 
The department has been cooperating in the investigation, Justice Department spokesman Alejandro Miyar told the Times.