Sometimes it makes me want to scream.
I refer to the misinformation that persists in the media — specifically in this case the Los Angeles Times — regarding the turmoil currently afflicting my employer, the Los Angeles Police Department.
In my most recent column here on PJ Media, I tried to shed light on some of the continuing pernicious effects of the federal consent decree under which the LAPD operated for the better part of the last decade. This week I found that still more light is required. I hope regular readers will forgive me if some of the following is repetitious.
Though the consent decree, which arose from the LAPD’s Rampart scandal of the late ‘90s, was lifted in July 2009, some of its provisions are still in effect and subject to monitoring by the U.S. Justice Department. Among these is one which requires officers assigned to gang and narcotics units to submit for inspection their personal financial records under the theory that the information might serve to reveal any among them who have enriched themselves illicitly or may be prone to doing so.
On Saturday, Los Angeles Times columnist Sandy Banks posed the question: “Will LAPD gang units’ turmoil lead to benefits later?”
LAPD officers charged with fighting gangs are walking away from their jobs en masse, because they don’t want to disclose to their bosses details of their personal lives. They consider insulting, invasive and potentially dangerous a rule aimed at ferreting out corruption by requiring gang and narcotics officers to submit for scrutiny their personal financial records.
All of which, as I pointed out in the previous column — as indeed I predicted three years ago — is true as far as it goes. But Banks goes on to put her naivete on exhibit when she delves further into the issues. For example, she discusses the gang problem in Los Angeles and the reasons gang-related crime has been declining. “Gangs have changed in the last decade,” she writes, “and so have the LAPD’s tactics. It’s no longer about banging heads and battering down doors but about enlisting others in community efforts.”
This might have her readers believing that the LAPD had adopted some sort of touchy-feely approach to gang enforcement, that cops are now “engaging” with gang members so as to reach a mutual understanding. She goes on to laud one such community effort and completely misinterprets its benefits.
It’s no coincidence that gang-related crime tumbled 40 percent over the last three years in neighborhoods where a city-funded summer program kept parks open until midnight, offering sports programs and counseling. High-profile raids of dangerous gangs and the sweeping reach of gang injunctions have made their mark on dangerous streets. But so have basketball games and free meals.
Very often it still is about banging heads and battering down doors, as any cop working in L.A.’s many gang-plagued neighborhoods would have told Ms. Banks had she bothered to ask. It is fanciful thinking to imagine that a hoodlum bent on gunning down a rival over some perceived slight can be deterred from doing so by a free hot dog and a game of pickup basketball.
Crime went down near those city parks that hosted the “Summer Night Lights” program not because the gangsters, sated from all that convivial grubbing and dribbling, put aside their differences (and their firearms), but rather because LAPD gang and patrol units were directed to show a heavy presence in those very same neighborhoods. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa wanted the program to succeed, and he made sure the LAPD cooperated by beefing up patrols near the affected parks.
Had those same parks been deserted all summer long, crime would have fallen just as much if the same number of cops had been deployed around them. As it happened, the added police presence liberated the parks from the gang members who had occupied them and allowed law-abiding families to venture out and enjoy them as they hadn’t before.
Just as irritatingly, Ms. Banks repeats a common fallacy about the Rampart scandal, which, she writes,
shocked us into realizing that dozens of officers in the LAPD’s former gang unit, Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums, were conducting themselves like hoodlums: beating suspects, dealing drugs, planting evidence and lying to cover it up.
She further labels the scandal “[o]ne of the most egregious cases of law enforcement misconduct in national memory.”
A scandal should be measured by its true dimensions, not by the amount of press coverage it receives. The LAPD and the Los Angeles Times for years have had an uneasy relationship (see here and here for more on this), and no media outlet is more responsible for the widely held though erroneous belief that the Rampart scandal was as far-reaching within the department as Ms. Banks seems to believe.