Brutality probe doesn't tell all, Democrats say White House accused of stalling release of Justice's police study .

May 14, 1992|By Chicago Tribune

WASHINGTON -- After a brief period of bipartisan consensus on civil rights, some congressional Democrats are accusing the Bush administration of withholding details from a report on police brutality in the United States.

The Justice Department last week provided Congress with only a 19-page summary of a report that is said to include 53 pages of text and nearly 600 pages of technical information, drawn from 15,000 allegations of police brutality from around the country.

The summary found that five of the eight states with the most brutality cases reported to federal authorities were in the South, an area considered essential to victory in presidential elections.

It also found that nearly half the complaints were concentrated in 187 cities out of the thousands of cities reporting cases, but it did not identify the cities.

"After careful analysis, this study does not reveal any statistically significant patterns of police misconduct," the summary said.

When it released the summary to a congressional subcommittee, the Justice Department cautioned against any interpretation of its findings because the data was raw and potentially flawed, based on allegations, not actual findings of misconduct.

The report, studying a period from roughly 1985 to 1990, found that in addition to California, Texas and New York, the greatest number of complaints were in Louisiana, Georgia, Florida, Alabama and Mississippi, according to the summary.

Rep. Don Edwards, D-Calif. chairman of the House Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., a subcommittee member, said yesterday they believed that the Bush administration had stalled on the release of the edited report and on the general issue of police brutality.

"It's outrageous," Mr. Edwards said. "They are not being cooperative in many ways. They opposed all our bills that dealt with police brutality."

Mr. Conyers said that the cities should have been named. "The American people certainly want to know which cities have the worst problems, so that remedial action can be taken."

Twenty states from the Midwest, Northeast and Northwest had fewer than 100 complaints, the summary said. The findings did not reflect brutality complaints made to state and local authorities.

The Justice Department launched its study last year in response to the beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles at the request of Mr. Conyers.

Follow-up studies are being conducted by the Police Foundation, a 22-year-old nonprofit research organization led by Hubert Williams and the International Association of Chiefs of Police, led by President Roland Vaughn. Mr. Williams is also a member of a newly formed commission looking into how the Los Angeles police handled the riot.

In the federal follow-up studies, the researchers have been assigned to determine whether police departments in certain cities are more prone to police brutality and to determine whether there is a correlation between specialized training and reducing brutality complaints. A draft report is expected by this fall.

In a related development, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund issued six reform proposals "designed to restore America's faith in its criminal justice system."

Among the group's recommendations:

* African Americans be appointed as state and federal judges.

* Prosecutors be limited in their use of peremptory challenges in jury selection as a tool to exclude minorities.

* Requests for change of a trial's location be denied when the move would effectively exclude "people of color from the judicial process."

* The elimination of police brutality be made a national priority.

* Racial disparities be eliminated in criminal sentencing.

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