ACLU settles Skid Row lawsuit

LOS ANGELES The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California initially sued the Los Angeles Police Department in 2003, claiming officers in Skid Row were unconstitutionally searching people or running criminal checks after they had been stopped for trivial offenses such as jaywalking or littering. The city's Skid Row area, spanning about a square mile on the east side of downtown, is home to thousands of homeless people.

"(Officers) didn't have probable cause," said attorney Carol Sobel, who worked with the ACLU on the case. "They'd ask them for their ID, if the person said, 'No,' they would take them into custody."

The LAPD does not acknowledge any wrongdoing, city attorney spokesman Nick Velasquez said.

Paul Weber, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League union, said officers in Skid Row have always been "sensitive to the special needs and conditions of the people who live in the community."

Under the settlement, officers will undergo mandatory training on federal laws that prevent trivial offenses being used as a justification to search or detain someone or as a pretext to checking their parole or probation status, ACLU attorney Peter Bibring said.

Attorneys involved in the lawsuit will litigate with the city over who is responsible for paying legal fees.

The ACLU won a temporary injunction against the Police Department in 2003 that was meant to halt such practices, and it filed for an extension in 2006 after a crackdown at Skid Row saw an increased police presence.

The so-called Safer Cities Initiative put 50 extra patrol officers and 24 narcotics officers on the streets to target drug dealers and enforce laws that forbid jaywalking and camping, sitting or sleeping on sidewalks.

The Safer Cities Initiative has seen a spike in the number of citations for minor violations. Reported crime in the area has dropped.

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