Pubdate: Thu, 2 Mar 2000
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2000 The New York Times Company
Contact:  229 West 43rd Street, New York, NY 10036
Fax: (212) 556-3622
Author: James Sterngold
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LOS ANGELES, March 1 -- In a long-awaited report on a burgeoning scandal, 
the Los Angeles Police Department today offered a scathing indictment of 
what was by its own admission a near collapse of its command and control 
systems and the creation of a culture that permitted brutality and 
corruption to flourish for years.

But the complex 362-page report left some civic leaders here troubled by 
what it left unsaid.

The document was issued at a news conference where the police chief, 
Bernard C. Parks, said he was proud of his department for having uncovered 
the wrongdoing, an assertion critics have widely disputed. Those critics 
also contended today that Mr. Parks was using the report largely as a 
cudgel to fend off the growing demands for an outside investigation of the 
department's management.

Mr. Parks did not propose taking any action against officials who failed in 
their management responsibilities, although he said a separate report might 
address them later. And he dismissed suggestions that he resign to take 
responsibility for the departmentwide lapses.

The assessment issued today was undertaken nearly six months ago, after a 
rogue officer, Rafael Perez, agreed to disclose widespread abuses in an 
effort to reduce his sentence for stealing cocaine from a police evidence 
room. He reportedly detailed vast wrongdoing at a single antigang unit, but 
now the criminal investigation of wayward officers is extending to other 

The report included a list of 108 recommendations to the Police Commission, 
a civilian oversight board, among them dozens of measures that would give 
top police officials more power and financing.

It did not, however, recommend increased outside scrutiny, a step critics 
had been hoping for.

"The report is vague or silent on the question of real concern, which is 
the root problem of how this was allowed to go on throughout the 
department," said Merrick Bobb, a lawyer who is an adviser to the Los 
Angeles County Sheriff's Department and helped draft a police reform plan 
eight years ago in response to the beating of Rodney G. King. "The L.A.P.D. 
has got to show that it's as willing to let others look at it as it has 
shown itself willing to look at itself. This is a first step, not an end 

Samuel Walker, a professor of criminal justice at the University of 
Nebraska at Omaha who is the author of a coming book on civilian oversight 
of police departments, said the Los Angeles department had been fighting 
effective civilian control for years and was trailing the police of other 
major cities in that regard.

"This report begs the real question," Professor Walker said.

"It's a very damning indictment, but it doesn't answer the basic question 
of why this was allowed to happen, why their own policies weren't followed."

"This," he added, "really does indicate that the L.A.P.D. is incapable of 
ensuring accountability of itself."

The report says the criminal investigation of corrupt officers is not 
complete, but it concludes that the corruption resulted from "a few 
individuals" whose wrongdoing "had a contagion effect on some of those 
around them."

Management shortcomings are addressed as well, however.

In some instances, the report says, officers were hired in spite of 
knowledge that they had problems like narcotics use or a history of violent 

At the news conference, Michael Bostic, a member of the board of inquiry 
that drew up the report, described the system for regularly evaluating 
officers as "an atrocity." There were too few supervisors in station 
houses, and when they had days off their officers sometimes went completely 

Civilians' complaints about police officers were not taken seriously or 
investigated properly, the report says, and patterns of complaints were 

The report also cites a startling lack of internal audits. As a result, it 
says, officers routinely ignored policies, in the knowledge that "the 
likelihood of anyone discovering the use of shortcuts is practically nil." 
It says there was "near universal ignorance" of the department's policies 
regarding the use of informers.

The report attributes police wrongdoing in part to the mediocrity that it 
contends was allowed to flourish. That notion was dismissed derisively by 
several experts here, with one senior law-enforcement official commenting: 
"Mediocrity is not corruption. It doesn't make an officer shoot an unarmed 
man in the head."

In that previously disclosed instance, an officer confessed that he and his 
partner had handcuffed an unarmed gang member, shot him in the head, then 
planted a gun on him and lied in court when he was charged with attacking 
them. His conviction, and 39 others, have already been overturned as a 
result of the uncovered corruption, with many more likely. Further, experts 
have warned that the city faces $200 million or more in civil liabilities.

The report's findings were especially troubling to some critics because 
just eight years ago, after the King beating, the initial acquittal of the 
officers involved and the ensuing riots, an independent panel headed by 
Warren Christopher proposed sweeping reforms that were supposed to put a 
stop to the sort of systemic abuses now being disclosed.

In August 1998, Mr. Parks told the Police Commission that 87 percent of the 
reforms had been implemented. Yet some of the same shortcomings were 
apparently allowed to continue under Mr. Parks, without any clear 
indication that anyone within the department was being held accountable.

"That is the point: Why would I have confidence in the same entity that has 
resisted the Christopher Commission reforms and that offered false 
assurances about their implementation?" Laura Chick, a member of the City 
Council and former head of its Public Safety Commission, said today.

"We need other perspectives," Ms. Chick added. "It cannot come from the 
department or the Police Commission, which swallowed the chief's assurances."

Mayor Richard J. Riordan, who has consistently supported Mr. Parks 
throughout the unfolding of the scandal, offered another endorsement of him 

"I have never been so proud of the Police Department," the mayor said in a 
radio interview.

"To have self-criticized themselves like this, I have never seen in the 
history of mankind any government agency do that. So we are going onward, 
upward, and I think everybody will be proud of us."

Gerald Chaleff, a lawyer who is the president of the Police Commission, 
said it intended to assemble a large staff of experts to analyze the report 
and make their own recommendations to the commission.

"We will go beyond the scope of the report," Mr. Chaleff said, "to ensure 
the department and the commission are held accountable, and to ensure that 
this doesn't happen again."
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