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
Author: Nicholas Riccardi, Jeffrey L. Rabin, Times Staff Writers
Bookmark: MAP's shortcut to Rampart items:


There is a familiar ring to the laundry list of internal problems that the
Los Angeles Police Department Board of Inquiry says allowed corruption in
the Rampart Division to fester.

That's because such deficiencies as inadequate screening of new officers and
the inability of the LAPD to track use of force and monitor problem officers
were identified by the blue-ribbon Christopher Commission after the beating
of Rodney G. King nine years ago.

The LAPD's failure to adopt the most significant reforms the commission
recommended to resolve those problems has caused some reformers to question
whether the department can police itself--especially since less than two
years ago the LAPD said it had dealt with many of those issues.

In August of 1998, Chief Bernard C. Parks was joined by his civilian bosses
on the Police Commission in declaring that it was time to "move beyond" the
Christopher Commission report, saying that 80% of its recommendations had
been "completed" or "closed."

"We honestly thought a lot of these things were fixed," LAPD Cmdr. Dan
Koenig said in an interview last week. "Now we find out that some of these
things aren't fixed."

"What do you do?" Koenig asked. "You honestly report to the people of this
city what you've found and then you go fix it, knowing full good and well
you've got an inspector general, a Police Commission and a City Council
looking over your shoulder to make sure that you've got it fixed this time."

In an interview, Parks stood by his prior statements that most of the
commission's recommendations had been implemented--even though reformers
have long cautioned against treating the commission's work as a procedural

"The fact that somebody fails to comply doesn't mean they [reforms] are not
in place," Parks said. "The expectation that once we put it into place that
there's going to be automatic 100% compliance is not realistic."

'We're Light-Years Beyond Christopher'

Parks said that many of the issues cited by the Christopher Commission are
subjects that police managers continually reexamine, and that the ways the
department will now tackle them go beyond the original recommendations. One
example he provided: the Christopher Commission urged analyzing patterns in
complaints against individual officers, whereas the Board of Inquiry
recommends doing the same for units of officers. "We're light-years beyond
Christopher," Parks said.

Former Police Commissioner Edith Perez, who was the panel's president at the
time of the 1998 news conference, did not return calls seeking comment. The
commission's current president, Gerald Chaleff, said last week he would
return a reporter's phone call but never did.

The statement that most of the recommendations had been implemented was made
even though the department and others in the city rejected what Christopher
Commission members said were several key recommendations: to give officers
in the field regular psychological tests and to beef up the staff of the
civilian Police Commission with auditors and investigators in addition to an
inspector general, whose post was created in 1995.

The Christopher Commission and the department's self-evaluation nine years
later were triggered by two very different events--the former by the
videotape of four officers beating King in Lake View Terrace, the latter by
disgraced former Officer Rafael Perez's confessions of how he and other
members of his anti-gang unit allegedly shot, beat and framed civilians in
the Pico-Union district.

As such, there are significant differences between the 228-page Christopher
Commission report and the 362-page report of the Board of Inquiry into the
Rampart scandal.

The Christopher Commission report--named after the chairman of the
Independent Citizens Commission, former Secretary of State Warren
Christopher--dealt with issues of excessive force and racism, and concluded
that "by all accounts, the LAPD is . . . free of corruption."

The Board of Inquiry report, written by LAPD officials, is laden with
detailed examinations of the department's procedures and paperwork and
recommends steps to prevent future corruption.

But the two reports have common themes.

And analysts say the two scandals appear to have their roots in similar

"What's the same is that we were talking about the failure of supervision,"
said former U.S. Atty. and Christopher Commission member Andrea Ordin, who
had yet to read the Board of Inquiry report. "We were talking about how
captains and commanders were not doing their job looking at these officers
[who use] excessive force."

A central theme of the Christopher Commission report was the department's
inability to discern patterns in officers' use of force.

The LAPD lacked any central database of officers' internal records, and the
commission cited numerous instances in which officers were evaluated or
promoted without reference to their disciplinary history. At the 1998 news
conference, the department distributed a report saying those problems were
completed or "closed" by the implementation of a centralized computer
database that would help curb excessive force, strengthen officers' human
relations training and be central in personnel decisions.

But 18 months later, the Board of Inquiry found the data in the computer
system so error-ridden that it said a complete review is needed.

Parks downplayed problems with the system, saying no database is perfect.
"There are errors in small percentages across the board," Parks said.

Yet, in words echoing the Christopher Commission, the Board of Inquiry
warned: "In too many cases, people are making personnel and promotional
decisions unaware of matters that certainly would affect their decisions."
And it cited "the failure of management to recognize those clear patterns
and correct the behavior of the officers involved" in the Rampart scandal.

The LAPD's continuing inability to create an effective system to monitor
personnel is in sharp contrast to the county Sheriff's Department, which
created a nationally recognized tracking system relatively soon after it was
urged to do so by a separate commission.

"If you want to do it, you can do it," said Merrick Bobb, a former counsel
to the Christopher Commission who monitors the Sheriff's Department for the
county Board of Supervisors.

'Evaluations Have Little or No Credibility'

Another similarity between the Board of Inquiry and Christopher Commission
reports is their concern with the department's performance evaluations. The
panel criticized the omission of use of force findings in some officers'
evaluations, warning that they may not adequately portray officers'

LAPD officials said they have found other weaknesses in the system.

The Board of Inquiry states: "We must restore integrity to our performance
evaluation system so it can be relied upon as a true measure of performance.
. . . Our personnel evaluations have little or no credibility at any level
in the organization."

In yet another echo of one of the Christopher Commission's central themes,
the Board of Inquiry report criticizes the way the department responds to
civilian complaints. Those who filed complaints against Rampart officers
"all seemed to be viewed as recalcitrant and their allegations were not
taken seriously by some of the supervisors assigned to conduct the

That comes nine years after the Christopher Commission bluntly concluded:
"The complaint system is skewed against complainants."

Parks said that most of the complaints covered in the Board of Inquiry
report were lodged before he introduced a new, less restrictive policy on
taking civilian complaints in 1998.

Another recurring problem cited by the Board of Inquiry is the failure of
the LAPD to adequately conduct background checks on its recruits--a concern
raised by the Christopher Commission nearly a decade ago. Parks said that
the background process has improved and that the current problems differ
from the procedures singled out by the Christopher Commission.

Still, the Board of Inquiry noted the similarity. "As painful as it may be,"
the report said, "we must recognize that this problem has not been solved."

Because pre-employment screening cannot detect emotional or psychological
problems, which may develop during an officer's career on the force, the
Christopher Commission recommended that officers be retested regularly.

The department has long rejected that key recommendation, to the dismay of
many reformers.

But members of the LAPD brass were alarmed when they discovered during the
Rampart investigation that a departmental policy designed to deal with some
of those concerns--counseling officers who use force--was not always

Parks noted that the review found that counseling was omitted in 10% of the
cases sampled. "It's not earth-shattering nor does it make the department
collapse," he said.

But the Board of Inquiry report said: "Anything less than 100% compliance in
this area is completely unacceptable."

Adherence to Diversity Training Questioned

The Board of Inquiry probe revealed so many problems within the department
that LAPD command staff is taking a second look at even those Christopher
Commission recommendations that it believes to be in place.

As one way to address concerns about racial bias, the Christopher Commission
recommended that police officers receive diversity and cultural awareness
training and continuing education.

In 1998, the department said it had implemented the suggestion to ensure
that timely and consistent training occurs during roll calls.

The Board of Inquiry found that a review of watch commander logs indicates a
"high level of compliance" with requirements for the training programs. But
the department investigators were so shaken by the lack of compliance in
other areas that they were skeptical of the result on roll calls.

"It is possible that the standardized roll call training curriculum is being
fully and faithfully provided, but it is also possible that people are
simply making the expected notation on their log whether or not the training
actually occurred," they wrote.

Of possibly greatest concern to some reformers is the seeming persistence of
one of the gravest problems identified by the Christopher Commission--the
code of silence among officers that discourages them from reporting

The department in 1998 said Christopher Commission recommendations regarding
the issue were "closed," saying, "The expectation that our employees be
candid and truthful has been the subject of numerous written reports,
training sessions and, unfortunately, discipline."

Reformers say their concerns have only been heightened.

"I think we've seen from the Board of Inquiry report that the code of
silence is alive and well," said Mark Epstein, a former counsel to the
Christopher Commission. "You can't address that problem by regulation. You
can only address it by management."

Still another key theme of the Christopher Commission was the need to hold
commanding officers responsible for their officers' use of force.

The LAPD in 1998 said that was being done because command officers now
review every report after an incident in which an officer uses force.

Again, the Board of Inquiry found problems in the procedure.

Of 349 use of force reports examined by the department, 103 had illegible
signatures, making it impossible to determine who had reviewed them. Another
75 were reviewed by sergeants and lieutenants, who are rarely acting as
commanding officers and should not be making final reviews.

Thirteen reports did not address tactical issues.

In response, the department has launched an audit of all use of force
reports in its archives.

The Board of Inquiry also recommended changing the format of the use of
force report sheet to ensure commanding officers are actually reviewing

In another effort to rein in the LAPD's use of force, the Christopher
Commission urged that complaints about excessive force be investigated by
the department's Internal Affairs Group rather than by the division where
the alleged misconduct occurred.

The LAPD in 1998 said that recommendation was "closed," stating that "every
effort is made" to have Internal Affairs investigate those complaints. But
the Board of Inquiry found too many serious complaints were still being
investigated by local divisions rather than Internal Affairs--a particular
problem at the Rampart Division. The new report recommends beefing up the
Internal Affairs unit to do more probes.

The LAPD's Koenig said that the department knew in 1998 that it did not have
enough Internal Affairs investigators to examine enough serious personnel
complaints, but that its requests for more funding to increase the staff had
been repeatedly rebuffed by the City Council--a concern not raised in its
1998 report.

Koenig defended the assertion in 1998 that the issue had been dealt with.

"We ask for stuff and we get told yes or no," he said. "This is a matter of
[the] budget."

Koenig said that the only way to spot the deviations from Christopher
Commission recommendations was through the extraordinary review undertaken
by the Board of Inquiry. There was, he said, no way to discover the problems
in August 1998, when the department, with the assistance of a public
relations firm, held its news conference to issue its report declaring the
Christopher recommendations mostly implemented.

"The report was written as we believed the situation to be at the time,"
Koenig said. "Who the hell knew Perez was going to get up and say what he

* * *

Problems in the LAPD Then and Now

Nine years ago, the Christopher Commission issues its landmark report on
excessive force, racial bias and problem officers in the Los Angeles Police
Department. Now, in the wake of the Rampart scandal, an LAPD Board of
Inquiry has issued it examination of the corruption case. Some of the issues
are strikingly familiar to those issues in the Christopher Commission



"Perhaps the greatest single barrier to the effective investigation and
adjudication of complaints is the officers' unwritten code of silence: An
officer does not provide adverse information against a fellow officer."


"The failure to control these [problem] officers is a management issue that
is at the heart of the problem.

The documents and data that we have analyzed have all been available to the
department; indeed, most of this information came from that source.

The LAPD's failure to analyze and act upon these revealing data evidences a
significant breakdown in the management and leadership of the department."

The LAPD "pays too little attention to a candidate's history of violence.
Experts agree that the best predictor of future behavior is previous
behavior. Thus, the background investigation offers the best hope of
screening out violence-prone applicants."


"Personnel evaluation reports ... often paint unduly favorable pictures of
officers who appear to have significant problems in their use of excessive



"None of the employees interviewed recognized any particular trend toward a
code of silence, which is certainly ironic, to say the least, given what we
now know regarding events at Rampart."


"Time and again, the board found clear patterns of misconduct that went
undetected. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the investigation of
personnel complaints by the Rampart community.

Regardless of the source, complaints all seemed to be viewed as recalcitrant
and their allegations were not taken seriously by some of the supervisors
assigned to conduct the investigations. Equally significant was the failure
of management to recognize those clear patterns and correct the behavior of
the officers involved."


"Pre-employment information on four of the profiled [Rampart] officers
raises serious issues regarding their initial employment with the
department. Criminal records, inability to manage personal finances,
histories of violent behavior and narcotics involvement are all factors that
should have been precluded their employment as police officers... So, as
painful as it may be, we must recognize that this problem has not been


"The fact is that our personnel evaluations have little or no credibility at
any level in the organization, and that must be corrected."

* Source: Christopher Commission, Board of Inquiry reports
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MAP posted-by: Don Beck