Charges of Spying Close LAPD Unit
In his first bold strike as Los Angeles police chief, Willie L. Williams on Thursday ordered both offices of the LAPD’s Organized Crime Intelligence Division “closed and sealed” because of allegations that police for years have spied on local politicians and community organizations.
In an interview with The Times on Thursday night, Williams said he ordered the division’s two offices closed and padlocked and that he has posted 24-hour uniformed officers and police Internal Affairs Division detectives to guard the entrances.
The chief said he is concerned that the department must “maintain the integrity” of the unit’s files and documents that are stored in the offices.
Williams met late Thursday afternoon with two Los Angeles police commissioners and advised them of his action--his biggest since he became police chief 10 days ago.
Today, he plans to meet with all 45 officers assigned to the Organized Crime Intelligence Division and brief them on the internal police investigation. Meanwhile, he added that the OCID officers will be temporarily reassigned.
“I’m not implying any wrongdoing on anybody’s part in the unit,” Williams said. “But it is in the best interests of the department to preserve the materials as the investigation continues.
“I decided it would be both prudent to get a handle on what is occurring within that division and also to maintain the integrity of the division’s files.”
Williams added that, based on his experience as police commissioner in Philadelphia for four years, “I knew this had to be done.”
The chief declined to discuss allegations about improper political spying by OCID detectives. He did say that since accepting the chief’s job in April, he has heard “various information from various sources” about alleged improprieties that have been occurring the past eight to 10 years in the unit.
“Pieces of information have been coming to me for some time.”
Williams also declined to say whether his action to shut down the division was prompted by an upcoming book by former OCID Detective Michael J. Rothmiller, who reportedly says that the division maintained files and conducted surveillance on numerous politicians, including former California Atty. Gen. John K. Van de Kamp, and many Hollywood celebrities.
Rothmiller resigned from the department in 1984 amid LAPD allegations that he had faked an attempt on his life. A state workers’ compensation judge, who found that the department had “harassed” Rothmiller, ordered the department to reinstate him. Rothmiller declined to return to the department.
Sources told The Times that an advance copy of the book was provided to the chief’s office on Wednesday. It prompted Williams to move swiftly to ensure that any improperly obtained documents are not destroyed once the book is published.
“He is taking some serious steps here,” one high-level source said of Williams’ action to shut down the OCID. “He’s reassigning the people, and he’s directly dealing with the problems that are being presented to him.”
Jesse A. Brewer, vice president of the Los Angeles Police Commission, who met with Williams on Thursday, applauded the chief’s action.
“One of the things that I’ve said since he has been named chief of police is that the commission will set policy and he will run the operations of the department,” said Brewer, a former LAPD assistant chief.
“He’s doing just that now. He’s doing what he has to do.”
Williams said the two OCID offices--on the third floor of the LAPD’s Central Division station and at Los Angeles International Airport--will remain padlocked and guarded throughout the investigation.
The OCID has been embroiled in controversy before, and was embarrassed in 1988 when it was revealed that two LAPD detectives in the unit leaked confidential information.
Allegations of illegal spying led to the demise of another controversial LAPD unit in January, 1983. After nearly a decade of controversy, the Police Commission voted to abolish the LAPD’s Public Disorder Intelligence Division, which for years had been accused of exceeding its responsibilities by spying on law-abiding groups and individuals.
Some dossiers on police commissioners and other civic leaders had been hidden outside the department.