The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, declining to bow to the prevailing political winds, yesterday called on the federal government to spend more time, money and energy combating police brutality.
In a 173-page study, the commission recommended, among other things, more staff for the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division and a change in laws that would permit the department to take civil action against local governments presiding over police departments with a pattern of abuse.
Commission Chairman Arthur S. Flemming conceded that, given the Reagan administration's drive to cut costs and downgrade the federal role in civil rights enforcement, the prospects for quick adoption of the proposals were uncertain.
But he said, "I'm not going to tailor my recommendations to the climate that may exist at some time. Even though we are going through a period of fiscal difficulty . . . there are some values that remain constant."
The six-member commission, an independent fact-finding arm of the executive branch, began the study in the late 1970s after reports of widespread police brutality in Philadelphia and Houston.
At a news conference yesterday, its members singled out Philadelphia as a city where, in 1979, there was, in the words of Commissioner Stephen Horn, a "total environment, ranging from the mayor to the City Council to the police chief to the business leadership, that condoned and encouraged police misconduct." He noted that the environment there "may have changed" with the replacement of former mayor Frank L. Rizzo, who was in office at the time of the hearings, by Mayor William C. Green.
The Justice Department brought suit against Rizzo and other city officials in 1979, alleging a pattern of civil rights violations, but its case was dismissed in U.S. District Court.
The commission called on Congress to enact legislation specifically authorizing civil action of that sort in the future.
It also called for other changes in the law to remove what it described as procedural impediments to prosecution of police misconduct.