LAPD ‘fosters hostility,’ according to report

The Associated Press
Tuesday September 12, 2000

LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Police Department needs more aggressive independent review and a permanent special prosecutor to investigate misconduct, according to a police union-commissioned report Monday. 

The 150-page report by University of Southern California law professor Erwin Chemerinsky found the department fosters a culture of hostility among its officers. An environment in which excessive force and a code of silence is tolerated has allowed corruption to fester, he said. 

“When innocent people are convicted, all of the institutions have failed us and all must be reformed so this doesn’t happen again,” he said during a news conference at City Hall. 

Chemerinsky, who was not paid for his work, is a constitutional expert who served as chairman of the elected commission that helped draft the revised City Charter that voters approved last year. 

The Los Angeles Police Protective League, which represents 9,300 rank-and-file officers, asked Chemerinsky to review an internal Board of Inquiry report into the department’s ongoing corruption scandal. 

More than 100 convictions have been overturned as a result of allegations that anti-gang officers at the Rampart station lied under oath, planted evidence, wrote false reports and in some cases shot unarmed suspects. 

The Board of Inquiry report, released in March, recommended several changes, including expanding the LAPD’s internal affairs division. Ultimately, however, it blamed the scandal on the failure of officers and supervisors to carry out existing department policies. 

Chemerinsky said it downplayed the scandal and failed to acknowledge how the department’s culture allowed the corruption to continue. He also noted that the Los Angeles criminal justice system, including the county district attorney’s office, shares some of the blame by not catching irregularities in officers’ cases. 

He called for strengthening the civilian Police Commission and a system in which people can more easily complain about alleged police misconduct. 

The Board of Police Commissioners, which has existed since the 1920s, sets department policies while the chief manages day-to-day operations. The five members are appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the City Council. Chemerinsky recommended giving the mayor two appointments and one each to the City Council president, the city attorney and the city controller. A majority council vote should be required to remove a commissioner, he added. 

Mayor Richard Riordan had not read the report and had no specific response to the suggestion of a more aggressive civilian review process, a spokesman said. 

“The mayor insists on reform, so that anything that is reasonable that relates to reform the mayor wants to seriously take a look at,” said Peter Hidalgo, Riordan’s press secretary. 

The LAPD and the Police Commission did not immediately return calls seeking comment. But Police Chief Bernard Parks has defended the department’s handling of the scandal, saying its own officers brought it to light and have aggressively investigated the allegations. 

Parks has responded to Chemerinsky’s past criticism of the Board of Inquiry report in letters to newspapers, saying it is far from the department’s final word on the Rampart scandal and that the professor has complained about a lack of civilian oversight on the report before the Police Commission has had a change to review it. 

The report’s finding of widespread corruption is “very, very painful, and completely opposite to my entire life as a police officer,” said Police Protective League President Ted Hunt. “But if someone like that says it, we have to examine it.” 

Union officials said they don’t agree with some of Chemerinsky’s 80-plus recommendations, including his call for the city to enter a federal consent decree that would give a judge power to force reforms. 

Several recommendations are similar to those found in the Christopher Commission report, which was written in response to the 1991 Rodney King beating. 

Some of those suggestions are being better received this time by officers, said Don Lint, a union director who represents patrol officers. They opposed citizen review when it was recommended by the Christopher Commission, but welcome it now, Lint said.