WASHINGTON -- Texas Gov. George W. Bush says the federal government should not be in the business of routinely investigating and ''second-guessing'' local police departments, a position that stands in marked contrast to the Justice Department's aggressive role in Los Angeles and other cities wracked by allegations of police corruption.
''I do not believe the Justice Department should routinely seek to conduct oversight investigations, issue reports or undertake other activity that is designed to function as a review of police operations in states, cities and towns,'' the presumptive Republican presidential nominee told the nation's biggest police union in a questionnaire obtained by the Los Angeles Times.
Such a policy, if Bush sought to enact it as president, would mark a significant break from the Justice Department's efforts in recent years to investigate police actions and, in some cases, force broad reforms at departments in Los Angeles, New York City, Pittsburgh, the state of New Jersey and elsewhere.
In a written response to questions from the National Fraternal Order of Police, Bush declared that while lawlessness by police cannot be tolerated, ''I also do not believe that the federal government should instruct state and local authorities on how police department operations should be conducted, becoming a separate internal affairs division.''
Federal authorities can ''assist'' local police in resolving allegations of misconduct, but ''these cases should be the exception, rather than the rule,'' Bush's response read. As president, he would work to support local police, ''rather than constantly second-guessing local law enforcement decisions,'' he added.
The fraternal order conducted written and in-person interviews with Bush and Vice President Al Gore in April and May as part of its political-endorsement process. As the nation's largest police union, with 290,000 members, its endorsement is highly coveted by politicians eager to tout their law-and-order credentials.
Despite Bush's criticism of the federal probes, which union leaders consider political ''blackmail,'' FOP is now moving to endorse Gore, who generally supports the Justice Department's police-misconduct investigations.
The police union's executive committee unanimously recommended last week that Gore should get the group's endorsement when the full board of trustees considers the issue in the fall.
Union sources said Bush fared poorly on several issues of importance to the union -- including collective-bargaining rights for law-enforcement personnel.
While Gore said he supports a national collective-bargaining bill to expand officers' rights, Bush said such issues should be left to state and local authorities.
One union source said that in his in-person interview with union leaders, the governor appeared ''ill-prepared'' to discuss the critical issue. And he came across as somewhat flippant when asked what he had done to help state troopers in Texas get more bargaining rights.
''He said, 'Well, we make sure they have a heck of a Christmas party.' That went over pretty poorly,'' the source said.
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