Panel pushes for rights against abusive police

Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Congress should make it easier for people to sue abusive police officers, and police departments should fire immediately any officer caught using racial profiling, the U.S. Civil Rights Commission said Friday.

In a report adopted by a 5-1 vote, the commission said police "have made great inroads in reducing crime and use of deadly force," but attempts to reduce police brutality and misconduct through agencies like civilian review boards have largely failed.

"Communities of color do not want to choose between safety and civil rights," the panel said.

The report, "Police Practices and Civil Rights in America," is a follow-up to the commission’s 1981 report, "Who Is Guarding the Guardians?" The new recommendations follow a year of high-profile allegations of police abuse in New York, Los Angeles and elsewhere.

The Justice Department can bring civil suits against police departments under the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, the report said, but private citizens cannot. It said Congress should provide a "private right of action by individuals injured by police misconduct."

Congress also should outlaw racial profiling, and "any officer found to have engaged in racial profiling should be subject to immediate dismissal from the police force," the agency suggested.

The commission found that civilian review boards are chronically underfunded and usually lack authority to act on their own. In addition, local prosecutors have to depend on the same police they are expected to prosecute, and the police are usually uncooperative, the report said.

"Civilian review boards need to exist, and they do need to be strengthened; otherwise they will be seen by the public as simply a sham operation," commission chairwoman Mary Frances Berry said.

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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