Pubdate: Wed, 19 Dec 2007
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2007 Los Angeles Times
Author: Celeste Fremon
Note: Celeste Fremon is a senior fellow at the USC Annenberg 
Institute for Justice and Journalism and the editor of
Bookmark: (L.A. Rampart Scandal)
Bookmark: (Opinion)
Bookmark: (Policing - United States)
Bookmark: (Corruption - United States)


Gang and Narcotics Officers Won't Stand for a Financial Snooping

Violent crime is down in L.A. by 7.8%, property crime by 3.4%. That's
the good news. The bad news is that, as of this morning, up to 800
gang and narcotics officers who helped make that drop possible are
deciding whether to leave their jobs -- all because of the inability
of a federal judge to make a sensible decision.

Here's the deal. According to the provisions of the federal consent
decree, LAPD officers at the rank of lieutenant or below who work in
either gang or narcotics details have to sign disclosure agreements
documenting all their personal finances and giving the department
access to their financial records. The idea is to ensure that these
officers are not stealing money, drugs or other "valuable contraband."
The provision has never been enforced -- until now.

In reaction, the Los Angeles Police Protective League says that about
500 of the officers directly affected will either request transfers
out of the gang and narcotic units or will simply retire. Plus, the
union plans to sue.

"It's not just about disclosing assets and liabilities," said Hank
Hernandez, the union general counsel. "It's about having to turn over
documents that confirm those disclosures, things like mortgage papers.
And then who has access to the documents? We see the kind of
record-keeping they do at police headquarters. I can show you photos
of stacks of boxes in the hallways that are open to the public."

For those who have forgotten (or never knew in the first place), the
federal consent decree is essentially a plea bargain between the LAPD
and the U.S. Justice Department that resulted from the Rafael
Perez/Rampart Division scandal and a laundry list of related problems.
The agreement went into effect in June 2001 and required the
department to take certain corrective measures, as well as submit to
five years of oversight by the feds (now extended for an additional
three years). In exchange, the feds agreed not to file a use-of-force
lawsuit against the LAPD.

The department has worked to satisfy the terms of the consent decree
- -- all but the financial snooping provision, which the union declared
unacceptably onerous. The lack of compliance has infuriated U.S.
District Judge Gary A. Feess, who has official say-so over the
provisions of the decree. A few years back, in an effort to placate
the judge, the LAPD and the union hammered out a compromise involving
additional background checks and periodic stings aimed at collaring
any cops on the take. They drew the line at blanket trolling of
financial records, unless there was a demonstrable reason to do it.
Everybody hoped the deal would satisfy Feess.

It didn't. Thus, for much of this year, there were new negotiations
between the union, the Police Commission, the City Council and the
consent decree monitor, in the hope of finding an acceptable middle
ground. But last week the talks fell apart, and on Friday the union
was served with an order demanding that every new gang and narcotics
officer sign the disclosure form. All existing officers must sign it
within two years.

"It's a total invasion of privacy," an unhappy 20-year veteran gang
detective told me. "The only reason for the two years is to avoid
losing the expertise. They want us experienced coppers to train the
new recruits before we transfer out, which 100% of the people I know
are going to do."

So, what about the financial disclosure requirement? Is it a good

In a word: no. For one thing, if an officer is doing what now-infamous
Rampart Division bad apple Perez was doing -- namely skimming large
amounts of high-ticket narcotics from police busts and reselling the
stuff through proxies for a tidy profit -- do we really believe that
he or she would deposit that ill-gotten loot in a Bank of America
checking account? .

More relevantly, would the financial disclosure agreement have helped
nail Perez sooner? Perez did not deposit his drug money; he spent it.
But let's say it would've sped up the righteous pinching of Mr. Perez.
In order to catch a handful of bad cops, is it wise to alienate and
humiliate hundreds of decent officers? In any organization, morale is
important. In law enforcement, it's everything.

"The federal monitor stood in open court and said this is 'best
practice,' " said Hernandez. "So we challenged him to come up with one
example where the strategy had worked, and he couldn't. The truth is,
there's no legitimate need for this order. We don't have the kind of
corruption it's meant to discover."

The heart of the Rampart scandal was never about stealing drugs or
money. It was about use of force, planting evidence, picking up gang
members and dropping them in "enemy" territory, "testilying." The
result was wrongful convictions, millions of dollars in civil rights
lawsuits and the long-term alienation of the communities most in need
of the LAPD's protection and service.

Even in the worst old days, financial graft has never been the LAPD's
problem. For that you'd want to look eastward to Chicago or New York.

Or as one upper-level officer said to me, "Historically, we may beat
you up, but we don't take your wallet."
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake