Connie Rice is a respected civil rights attorney who has decided to join the "dark side", as she jokingly calls it, by becoming a Los Angeles Police Department adviser. Working on the inside of any mainstream institution is a difficult adjustment for an outside advocate to make, but joining the LAPD is especially tricky for a former NAACP Legal Defense Fund lawyer. Rice also receives hundreds of thousands of dollars from Los Angeles' city government for reports and advice on police reform.
She ardently supported William Bratton as LAPD chief and she has lobbied for him to become New York's new chief. With Rice vouching for him, it became easy for new Mayor Bill de Blasio to embrace Bratton's return to New York.
So who is right in the argument over Bratton? Reformer or not? Pusher of "broken windows" targeting of inner city youth, or the man who won over LA's black and brown communities? It depends on the questions you ask.
In my own view, Bratton's strongest credential was the vast improvement in public perceptions of the LAPD, especially in the African American community with its long fear of the occupying army. Bratton also ran interference - if it was needed - for compliance with the federal government's consent decree that required the end of many unconstitutional police practices. Bratton also showed an ability to listen and adjust, for example after his initial rhetoric about a "war" on gangs. Additionally, Bratton supported the city's unique programs of gang prevention and intervention. That's a substantial record.
But not a single African-American has graduated from the LA Police Academy for the past two years. There's been little if any progress on racial profiling, despite litigation of many years. There is no sign that the LAPD internal mechanisms for handling citizen complaints are working. No one really knows what arrangements the LAPD has with the homeland security apparatus.
But here is the most important issue of all for New Yorkers: the LAPD consent decree did not cover the massive increase under Bratton of pedestrian and automobile stops in LA's inner city, which amounted to the erection of a surveillance state in the ghettos and barrios. According to the 2009 Harvard study which Bratton himself commissioned, the LAPD made 587,200 stops in 2002, which rose to 875,204 by 2008. Under the terms of the decree, those were considered "police management decisions to use arrest powers more aggressively for less serous crimes." If you thought police resources should be focused on the most serious and violent crimes, you don't understand "broken windows" policing. The idea is to concentrate police resources on the communities thought to be most dangerous, and build cases against people who are predicted to commit crimes. Even with reforms, incidentally, black and Latino citizens were subject to the use of force disproportionately to their "involuntary contacts" with the police.
Every year, in other words, hundreds of thousands of black and Latino citizens, particularly young people, are being pulled over in their cars or stopped on street corners, asked for identification, and interrogated with little if any basis in reasonable suspicion. The information gathered by LAPD officers is entered in a top-secret database whether or not there is evidence of guilt. The database is largely inaccessible. But it is available for future background checks and job interviews and, in the event that any individual is convicted of a subsequent crime, even many years later, the "data" is used to "enhance" the sentence by up to three years. It represents McCarthyism applied to the gang wars.
All those arrested by the LAPD are processed in the county jail where a culture of abuse and guard impunity is "institutionalized", according to the recent declaration of the US attorney.
Police reform in Los Angeles has done nothing to reverse the growth of a stigmatized underclass of young people who are caged in one of the largest systems of mass incarceration on the planet.
This is largely the outcome of Bratton's policy emphasizing "broken windows" over fixing of broken communities, as Rice herself has argued. It is part of a larger pattern, of course, of abandonment and demonizing of many young people of color, who become scapegoats for society's unwillingness to address unemployment and inequality.
This is good politics as well. Most New Yorkers remember the hysteria over "wildings" in Central Park, which led to a show trial of young black men who were ultimately released because of misconduct and lack of evidence. The suppressed racial hysteria of middle and upper class people can always be exploited to create police barriers against the unconscious threat posed by the "dangerous classes."
The challenge for de Blasio and Bratton in New York City will be to take up where reform left off in Los Angeles: the need to sharply reduce the number of young people being stopped-and-frisked on their way to Riker’s Island and the prison gulag. Let there be no doubt that the next "crime wave", if there is one, will be fostered in the prison-industrial complex.