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Report shows gains by LAPD

May 18, 2009 |  1:19 pm

After several years of court-ordered reforms, the LAPD has made significant gains in improving Angelenos’ opinion of police, the performance and attitudes of its officers and the agency's management, according to a new Harvard University study.

The nine-month study, requested by Los Angeles Police Department Chief William J. Bratton and paid for by a private foundation that supports the department, was originally intended to assess how the LAPD has changed since being forced about eight years ago by federal officials to adopt a sweeping set of checks and balances following the Rampart corruption scandal.

With the City Council debating massive budget cuts across the street at City Hall, however, the press conference at LAPD headquarters to announce the report served a more immediate need. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Bratton seized on the study for ammunition in their ongoing battle to fend off a money-saving proposal by some in City Council to halt the mayor’s push to hire 1,000 new officers.

“After all the hard work to turn this department around, the years of fighting and struggling and striving to build a larger, more progressive police force, we cannot turn our backs on our officers now,” Villaraigosa said. “This is not the time to go back to the old ways of the LAPD, to the days when the cops were underfunded and under-equipped, overworked and overextended, pushed to the limit and stretched far too thin. This is the moment to recommit ourselves ... to a larger LAPD.”

Christopher Stone, a criminal justice professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, highlighted statistics from the study that, he said, point to a dramatic about-face by the LAPD. Despite early concerns by police officers that they would be hamstrung by the increased oversight and paperwork demanded by the federal Department of Justice, the falling crime rate, along with increases in the number of arrests and prosecutions, show the opposite, Stone said.

At the same time, the public’s assessment of the LAPD, the frequency with which officers are using serious force and officers' attitudes about the job have improved, as well. More than eight of 10 Angelenos, for example, said in surveys that they believe the LAPD is doing a good or excellent job.

“We’re talking about a department that has been able to reduce crime, increase satisfaction with the community, while increasing law enforcement activity. ... It’s a remarkable combination,” he said.

Bratton echoed the mayor in calling on city lawmakers to allow the department to continue its hiring campaign that aims to boost its ranks to 10,000. Returning to the original purpose of the study, he said he also hoped the judge and monitors overseeing the reforms would take it into account when deciding next month whether to free the LAPD from federal oversight.

-- Joel Rubin