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Six Officers Face Questioning Over Messages : Police: They must explain derogatory remarks transmitted on LAPD computer equipment. Others are likely to be interviewed.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a move that could lead to numerous job suspensions, at least six Los Angeles police officers are being called into interviews with Internal Affairs Division investigators to explain why they allegedly sent offensive messages on police computer equipment, police officials said Wednesday.

The interviews are seen as the first step by Police Department officials in punishing scores of officers whose racist and sexist computer messages were highlighted in the recent Christopher Commission report recommending reform in the LAPD.

Sgt. Don Westfall, supervisor of the department’s Employee Representation Unit, said Wednesday that six officers have called his office requesting a police defense representative to accompany them to the Internal Affairs interviews.

The sergeant said the six police officers--stationed in the Hollywood, Wilshire and Van Nuys divisions--are being told that an allegation of misconduct is being lodged against them, and that their commanding officers will decide how long a suspension, if any, should be levied against them.

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The Christopher panel found nearly 700 apparently inappropriate computer transmissions that were sent in the 16 months before the March 3 police beating of Rodney G. King. The department, in its own review, found 345 allegedly offensive messages sent over the last year.

Police commanders must decide by Monday whether to file disciplinary charges against any of the officers under the department’s one-year statute of limitations for such infractions.

“We’re going to get inundated with this,” Westfall predicted. “It’s going to create a logjam. A significant logjam.”

Added an attorney who defends police officers: “Anyone who moves is getting a formal complaint. Every little computer message is being scrutinized, and they’re going after everybody.”

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Police Chief Daryl F. Gates announced in July that the department was reviewing all of the Mobile Digital Terminal messages spotlighted by the Christopher Commission and internal police reviews. “In each case,” the chief said, “appropriate discipline will be administered.”

Cmdr. Rick Dinse said Wednesday that command officers are continuing to review the computer logs to determine who sent the messages, why they were sent and whether the officers should be disciplined.

He declined to speculate on how many officers might be disciplined. “You’re talking about something that’s going to evolve over a period of time,” he said.

“But I expect the number of personnel complaints will probably go up,” he added.

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Since the revelations of computer abuse, Dinse said, random audits show the problem “has diminished considerably, especially in the area of flagrant, inappropriate messages and words.”

Still to be corrected, however, are attitudes among some police officers that racist and sexist language is allowed in the LAPD. “And that’s probably a bigger problem,” Dinse said.

Many of the computer messages found by the Christopher Commission appeared to be offensive, such as one sent shortly before King was beaten in which an officer apparently referred to black people as “Gorillas in the Mist.”

But Dinse cautioned that many of the messages were not really intended to offend anyone. He cited a transmission that referred to “going back to a holding tank and kicking a suspect,” noting that it was merely police slang for “kicking loose,” or freeing, a suspect.

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In a related development, a group of about 15 black community activists, led by U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, paid an impromptu visit Wednesday to Mayor Tom Bradley to press a variety of demands as a result of the King beating.

The group has been lobbying city officials to move ahead with the LAPD reforms called for by the Christopher Commission, and is demanding strict limits on Gates’ role in implementing the reforms. They also want assurances that a proposed term limit for future police chiefs will not be placed on a low-turnout, special election ballot, where it could be seen as a referendum on Gates, Waters said.

A spokesman for the mayor called the meeting cordial and said Bradley generally supported their wishes. Bradley also said he, the City Council and the Police Commission would oversee the reforms’ implementation, officials said.


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