The LAPD requires that each division have a certain percentage of its officers on street patrol at any given time, a computer-generated number determined by an individual division's needs that day. But some officers have reported to the LAPD's inspector general — an independent watchdog — that there are not always enough officers available to meet that mandate, according to officials from the union representing rank-and-file officers.
They allege that some station commanders have instructed officers to fill out logs that show them as being on patrol when they were, in fact, in a station performing others jobs or in some cases not even on duty. The result, the union officials said, are "ghost cars" — police cruisers that are reported out in the field but really aren't.
Cmdr. Andrew Smith confirmed that the department was investigating what he described as "anecdotal" reports of ghost cars, but said that it had not yet determined whether the allegations were true or how widespread the practice might be.
"It is something that we were made aware of, and we are looking into it," he said. "If it had happened in the past, it's not something that is acceptable and won't be happening anymore."
Smith said the department had maintained its mandated seven-minutes-or-less response time to calls and there were no signs that response times have risen.
Mark Cronin, a director of the Los Angeles police union, said his organization had fielded complaints from officers and was forwarding them to the LAPD inspector general for investigation.
Cronin said inflating the number of officers on patrol raised serious safety concerns for the public and officers who are actually on patrol. Fewer officers on the street, he said, means less available back-up should the need for a major police presence arise.
"The reality is that it's a huge officer safety risk," he told the Los Angeles Times. "It's just a matter of when."