Pubdate: Mon, 13 Mar 2000
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2000 Los Angeles Times
Contact:  Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053
Fax: (213) 237-4712
Section: Los Angeles Metro


How could anyone, much less Chief Parks, insist that the Christopher
Commission's recommendations are essentially all in place? The facts prove

The Los Angeles Police Commission and its staff face a task that would have
been unimaginable as recently as a year ago--restoring credibility to a
department that long rested on its reputation for incorruptibility, a
reputation we now know to be hollow. The LAPD's own internal inquiry makes
it clear that a climate ripe for abuse has long existed in the department
and continued to exist even after the 1991 Christopher Commission
identified key shortcomings in LAPD hiring, training and supervision.

Much of what still ails the LAPD was laid out more than nine years ago by
the Christopher Commission. That commission's namesake, former Secretary of
State Warren Christopher, a man of spare words, can't hide his own
disappointment: "It's troubling to find that there are matters of real
importance that were discussed in our report of nine years ago that remain
unaddressed or not fully resolved today."

Police Chief Bernard C. Parks, seemingly unable to hear what his own
investigative team has told him, declares that his department has surpassed
the changes called for in 1991. Mayor Richard Riordan hasn't helped,
failing to use more than $163,000 in federal money for a computer tracking
system that would help identify problem officers. The mayor has undermined
the Police Commission as well, floating the idea of firing commission
President Gerald Chaleff, apparently because he dared to think

The LAPD's own Board of Inquiry report reads in some ways like an addendum
to the 1991 Christopher Commission investigation, though its suggestions
for remedies are all internal department reforms rather than calls for
external oversight. Still, it is clear that serious, long-identified
problems remain unattended to.

* A system out of balance: Those are the LAPD's own words about its system
for evaluating future and current officers. The LAPD board reviewed 14
former Rampart Division anti-gang officers, including chief Rampart
informant Rafael Perez, from preemployment screening onward. Its inquiry
found that the personal history questionnaires used for hiring were
sometimes illegible. Psychological employment interviews had been
discarded. Four officers were hired despite some of the following: a
criminal record, bad personal finances including bankruptcy, narcotics
involvement and histories of violent behavior. Half of the 14 were hired
from outside of California, without in-person interviews. The department
and others in the city rejected what members of the Christopher Commission
said were key recommendations, including giving officers in the field
regular psychological tests.

The LAPD report described job evaluations as "inherently unreliable and
seldom an accurate reflection of performance." In 113 personnel packages
pulled at random, the officers' average score was 21.4 out of 24
performance objectives, the report said--the equivalent of making A-minus
the average grade.

* Beyond Rampart: Rampart was, of course, examined most closely. In
reviewing 11 former Rampart officers, investigators found forged supervisor
signatures on arrest and booking documents; "unusual" or "remarkable"
similarities in separate arrests of separate suspects in which the suspects
were said to have uttered the very same phrases. All of this took place
with no apparent fear of penalty. Anti-gang units citywide had similar
patterns, including instances of so-called "boilerplate [police] report
practices"--again, remarkably similar language used to describe arrests and
probable cause for arrest. At Hollenbeck Division, investigators found "a
general lack of clarity or articulation in reporting probable cause for
detention and/or search." At Devonshire Division's CRASH unit, there was a
case in which the arrest report, the booking and property reports and the
analyzed evidence report all listed different quantities for the narcotics

Disbanding the CRASH anti-gang units is hardly sufficient if officers and
their supervisors take the same lax practices to their new assignments.

* Anonymous informants: The report noted what appeared to be a disturbing
overuse of confidential (and therefore unidentified) informants to
corroborate facts or observations that led to arrests. There were no
guidelines for maintaining records on informants. As the board report said,
there is a "dire need for greater control and training on use and
management of informants" throughout the department.

The Christopher Commission pounded hard on these same themes: lack of
supervision, management failures and poor record-keeping. How could anyone,
much less Chief Parks, insist that the Christopher Commission's
recommendations are essentially all in place? The facts prove otherwise.

Other long-standing issues reidentified by the Board of Inquiry include
poor treatment of civilians who dare to file a complaint. The board also
found "recanted complaints" in which, despite even documented injuries, the
complainant withdrew his original statement. Property and evidence control
was a disaster waiting to happen, with "no fail-safe procedure to verify
that an employee needs to withdraw items" from the evidence rooms. The
situation "creates an opportunity for a dishonest employee to remove
evidence, use it illicitly, and then cover up the transaction," the board
report said.

The board suggested fixes including encoded identification cards and
supervisory approval for access to evidence items, but this is elementary
stuff. Someone has to take a wider view, and that will have to begin--but
need not end--with the Police Commission.

This is not a case in which the Police Commission can simply rule up or
down on the LAPD board's many recommendations. The commission must assure
itself that significant change will occur and must regularly monitor the
progress. That's the huge challenge the civilian panel faces. The public
must be assured that the commission will be free to do that and to bring in
outside help as needed, without interference from the mayor or any other
city or police official.
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MAP posted-by: Eric Ernst