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LAPD and ACLU reach settlement on skid row searches

December 18, 2008 |  1:04 pm

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