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LAPD and ACLU reach settlement on skid row searches

Los Angeles police officers face significant restrictions on when they can search people under a agreement announced Thursday that settles a landmark homeless right case.

The agreement comes 18 months after a federal judge found that the LAPD was unconstitutionally searching homeless people in the skid row area as part of Chief William J. Bratton's crackdown on downtown crime.

While the LAPD has strongly disputed the judge's findings, officials have agreed to dozens of conditions under which officers would be prohibited from searching people they come across on the street.

Officers will no long be allowed to search people caught jaywalking, sleeping on the street or cited and released in the field for minor offenses. Officers are also prohibited from handcuffing subjects "unless there is reasonable suspicion that the person may harm the officers, other people or may flee or destroy evidence." Limits were also set on when officers can run warrant checks.

"This settlement will ensure important checks on the LAPD’s aggressive tactics on skid row," said Peter Bibring, an ACLU of Southern California attorney. "The Constitution protects every Angeleno against unlawful stops and searches, from those living in Hollywood Hills to those sleeping on the streets of downtown. This is an important step in showing aggressive policing is not going to solve the problems of homelessness in the downtown.”

The current LAPD captain for Central Division, Jodi Wakefield, said that she disagreed with the judge's assessment of her officers' conduct.

"We agree to disagree," she said. "But there's nothing wrong with us going back and making sure that our officers clearly understand the Constitution, and all the laws they have to abide by. I feel confident they do."

Paul M. Weber, President of the Los Angeles Police Protective League said the efforts of LAPD officers have improved the downtown area.

“The streets of Skid Row are much safer today, thanks to the dedication of the officers working in the Central Area," he said. "LAPD officers working on Skid Row have always been and will continue to be sensitive to the special needs and conditions of the people who live in the community.”

-- Cara Mia DiMassa and Richard Winton

Photo credit: Los Angeles Times

Comments () | Archives (40)

how horrible. maybe the police should just hand out flowers instead of tickets. every vagrant should be rounded up and forced to work or sit in a jail cell. (and by work, i mean contribute to society.)

I work in the downtown area and have seen a vast improvement in the quality of life thanks to the LAPD's great work. I hope their progress isn't turned back by these bad settlements and the flawed thinking of a poor judge. I also hope their safety isn't compromised.

Good job LAPD and thanks for the great service and cleaning up what was once and is now again a great part of the city.

The LAPD occasionally takes an aggressive posture with citizens who are not the American ideal, not just the homeless. The homeless situation downtown is horrible and the police are taxed with solving a social problem that will not be solved by the arrest and incarceration of vagrants in an already overburdened Justice system.

This judge's ruling only gives police directions to treat vagrants as citizens with constitutional rights; they still are within their rights to deal with those who pose a threat to them or others. Just being homeless is not a crime and with our economy in the condition it's in we may see many more homeless on our streets. This country has become less concerned with the collective welfare of our people since the Reagan years, perhaps Obama will help us return to a more compassionate nation.

There is another article in today's new about more Californians leaving the State than entering. Here is another godd reason to leave. The bad guys are being allowed to rule in LA.

While I agree that homeless people have rights like everyone else, I believe the ACLU should spend some of their funds in programs that fight for these folks to have a home. Many of the people have mental health issues, as well as drug addiction and fall victims to drug dealers and to those prone to violence. How about suing the city or county for not providing programs, half-way houses or other means for the mentally ill to get off the streets ACLU? How about using your legal muscle and funds to make the entire city better, not just cure a symptom of a much larger societal program. Let me guess, you are only concerned with rights being violated, not actually solving anything. That's the kind of "passing the buck" mentality brings no change.

It is legal for an officer to ask a person for their name. If the person provides her or her name the officer can run a warrant check. Many wanted felons are located in this manner making the streets safer for all, even the ACLU. Why are we so intent on making new law? Why not just operate within current legal parameters which are restrictive enough already?

I have had my home searched without a warrant

and everytime I call the POLICE they sent swat...

i say waste of funds

Ridiculous, why are we handcuffing Police Officers and not letting them do their jobs? . Arresting people on "quality of life" crimes has prevented many from committing far greater crimes. What a waste of taxpayer's money.

No one should be permitted to sleep in the street or jaywalk

"But there's nothing wrong with us going back and making sure that our officers clearly understand the Constitution" Duhh! You think!?

The ACLU cracks me up. Self-proclaimed experts on policing in a major metropolitan area, but none of them have ever done it. Hilarious.

It's actually a good thing that this was settled in this manner. People have to understand that police are people first. People are not perfect. Some people are good and some people are bad. Some officers are bad and some officers are good. Some of these officers were doing bad things to good people just because they were homeless. We all have to realize that most of us are one, two or maybe three paychecks away from being homeless. Would we want the police stopping and searching us or our family members for no reason? This is why the settlement was made. Remember, homeless people are still human and are still AMERICAN. I feel sorry for the people who don't realize that fact.

The middle classes are about to join the homeless on the streets.

Yeah, how dare those at the bottom of society expect to have rights? Maybe if they weren't so damn lazy and smelly, they could be productive members of society...See that sound ridiculous, but that is what Mike and jeffsd are espousing.

I applaud the decision. The Constitution was written to protect everyone. This is a victory for everyone that falls under the Constitution.

This is ridiculous. Instead of worrying about these worthless bums, the ACLU should be concerned with the Marines' involvement in roadside check points in San Bernardino County. That violation of posse comitatis is the real threat against civil rights.

I am a limousine driver, some times II am dispatched to the downtown to pick up and drop off. Many times I am compelled to wait in the area, often in the late and early hours of the day.
Downtown is a world apart from where most of us live. I dont think the day has ever passed when I am downtown that I am so overwhelmed by the conditions some endure that I do not buy some one a McDonalds Happy meal not buy some juice and vitamins in one case for a female aids victim hovering near death.
I always feel like a target for a street robbery, I caution visitors to not stray intot he streets alone.

Excellent!! Cops finally being ordered to following the law, once again. Will miracles never cease? But my faith in Santa will be restored when one or more are arrested for breaking the highest law in the land, the Constitution of the U.S.

Merry Christmas And Due Process To One And All!

Jeffsd might hope he doesn't also loose his job and end up on the street. No state can legitimately round people up and force them to work, that is called slavery. China does that today and they are rightly condemned for this. Being out of work is not a crime, and I would not be too smug about keeping your own job in view of the current economic crisis. Before jumping on your high horse you might want to ask why a lot of these people are homeless in the first place.

Its ironic that the LAPD which is suppose to serve and protect its clientele must be forced to not violate the constitutional rights of those they're serving and protecting. Its our taxpayer dollars that hire and pay the salaries of the very same officers that abuse many of those too impoverished to defend themselves. Is that what we want? Its definitely what we've allowed up until now, but is it really what we want our police force to be doing? Listen, don't get me wrong. I'm not into bashing cops or rebellious towards authority.
I believe we need law enforcement, but somewhere it got twisted and we work for them now instead the other way around. They tell us what they're going to do and we sit there and somehow believe we've just got to take it. The judge in this case, who by virtue of their title, knows the law far better than someone who probably just met the minimum requirements for employment by earning a GED and not committing a felony.
This is not unique to the LAPD. Police agencies all over the country are having difficulty knowing where the line is when it comes to violating the constitutional rights of citizens. Many times the police determine (mainly by the ethnicity, and the preconceived economic status of the citizen they are dealing) whether that particular citizen deserves certain constitutional protections. Its unfortunate, but all too real. Many who have a hard time believing this may be doing so because they are not of that particular ethnic or economic persuasion. Just because it doesn't happen to you; doesn't mean that it doesn't happen. And just because it happens to someone doesn't necessarily mean that that person or group is guilty of anything other than that police officers personal prejudices. So, I applaud the judge for having the political courage and moral character to stand up for many who can't stand for themselves. They should be commended not criticized, especially in this day and time when many who have been given the charge to render justice to all, are found to be nothing more than pawns of the powerful and the wealthy.

Mike your an idiot!! Go back to the suburbs.

Yeah, Jeffsd, it's horrible that people's constitutional rights are being protected.

The fourth amendment is clear, the public is protected from unreasonable search and seizure. Homeless people have the same rights you do. If you were being stopped and searched unlawfully you would be outraged. Bravo to the judge for standing up for the constitution and human rights.

Just when I didn't think the ACLU could sink any lower I hear this. Do people not understand that the ACLU just created case law that will carry over into their own cozy little enclaves and neighborhoods. The precedent set in this case will effectively curtail the ability for police to search people for weapons or narcotics not just in Skid Row but EVERYWHERE in Los Angeles and Southern California. The ACLU is causing more harm than good and I am sick of it. Let the ACLU board members who had a hand in this decision see how long they would last in Central Division without the police there to protect them.

I'm grateful for our LAPD. However, persecuting the homeless of skid row, or anywhere else for that matter, is not a solution. It does not make sense that the chronically homeless and targeted. They are the one's least likely to be able to do for themselves. How does moving them out of the area or putting them in jail help anything? Yes, they need jobs, but only a person with a roof over their head and food in their stomach can do that. Many of these people are mentally ill or have chronic abuse problelms. Anyone who thinks that just because they are not seen is an improvement, it isn't - it just politics. They need real help, like healthcare and housing - just like we do.

Several years ago I witnessed a mugging in downtown Los Angeles in which the perpetrator used a pair of brass knuckles on a pedestrian. I called the police on my cell phone and told them the direction the offender had gone. They wanted me to accompany them on a search for the guy so I could point him out, but they wouldn't take me unless I submitted to being handcuffed in the backseat of their car while we went to go look for him.

I did not agree to help them. And short of a missive from God himself, nothing could get me to visit your city again.

Any homeless person needing a place to sleep or location to ask for money may go to 1313 West Eighth St.
Los Angeles, CA 90017

They will be afforded free unrestricted access to safe sleeping infront of our building.

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