Pasadena City Councilmember Victor Gordo last Monday attacked the proposal for an Independent Police Auditor (“IPA”) by claiming that Los Angeles Police Department officers are now afraid to do their job because LA’s Inspector General — the LA equivalent to an IPA — has taken a more critical view of a police shooting than the view of the LAPD Chief. Gordo’s assertion is just the latest retread of fear-mongering against police oversight through the inaccurate assertion that police oversight causes “de-policing” — i.e., robust police oversight causes officers to refuse to do their jobs or to be too confused to do their jobs.
No evidence supports the de-policing bugaboo disseminated by Gordo. On the contrary, the objective evidence shows that de-policing does not result from oversight — including evidence specific to the LAPD. The City of LA IG that is now conducting LAPD oversight was created by the 2000 federal court consent decree settling the Department of Justice’s lawsuit against LAPD abuses. The 2009 Harvard Kennedy School Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management study of the LAPD’s policing under the consent decree contains a systematic study of the accusation that de-policing resulted from the IG’s and the LA Police Commission’s robust oversight. That study concluded “there is no objective sign of so-called ‘de-policing’ since 2002; indeed, we found that both the quantity and quality of enforcement activity have risen substantially over that period.” See, http://www.hks.harvard.edu/content/download/67474/1242706/version/1/file/Harvard_LAPD_Report.pdf
The most systematic national study of increased internal police oversight, the University of Nebraska at Omaha/Police Executive Research Forum survey of 135 police managers, reached a similar conclusion: “…no manager reported a negative impact on the quality of police service. Some skeptics have suggested that the heightened scrutiny of performance in an EIS [early intervention system] might cause ‘de-policing,’ where officers reduce their activity level to avoid potential citizen complaints or use of force incidents. No manager in the survey, however, reported that the EIS caused officers to back off and reduce their activity level.” See Walker, The New World of Police Accountability (2nd Ed.) P. 167.
Police unions have repeatedly spread the false accusation that increased accountability or oversight leads to de-policing despite the objective evidence that they lead to better policing. Because they have a legal duty to fairly represent their members, the unions’ misguided rhetoric about de-policing is perhaps understandable. But elected officials like Gordo have an obligation to the whole community; pandering to the police unions by disseminating the de-policing myth disserves that broader responsibility. Pasadena deserves its public officials basing policy on objective evidence rather than scare tactics.
Dale Gronemeier is a local civil rights attorney.