Panel Proposes Guidelines on Punishing Police Misconduct
A Los Angeles Police Commission task force working to establish a new set of discipline guidelines has proposed cracking down hardest on officers who lie, use excessive force, demean women and minorities or are careless with their firearms.
“All misconduct is serious, but several types are seen as most serious,” said a report on the proposed guidelines.
The guidelines, which were released to The Times, address a key issue among reform advocates who want the LAPD’s internal discipline to better reflect the severity of an offense. The guidelines are also intended to ensure that fair and consistent penalties are handed down to officers found guilty of similar misconduct.
Currently, there are no formal guidelines for what penalties will be imposed, giving supervisors tremendous leeway in meting out punishment. Decisions are often made by historical precedent, rather than in accordance with any departmental policy.
The Christopher Commission, convened after the Rodney G. King beating and charged with identifying areas for LAPD reforms, recommended five years ago that there be an overhaul of the way the department handles disciplinary matters.
“The view of this task force was that we needed to make a statement of policy through the guidelines about what will not be tolerated,” said Commission President Raymond C. Fisher, who help draft the proposed guidelines.
“We’re sending a signal to the officers by prioritizing the issues that are important to the community and making sure the punishments are consistent with that message,” he said.
The proposal singled out as most egregious misconduct that which involved dishonesty, excessive force, derogatory ethnic and racial remarks, sexual harassment and abusing the right to carry firearms.
For some of those offenses, members of the task force said, many of the new penalties are more severe than they have been in the past.
“We wanted a clear message that integrity is an absolute,” said Cmdr. Gregory Berg, who helped draft the guidelines. “You don’t abuse citizens or your fellow employees.”
According to the guidelines, punishments can range from written reprimands to termination. The severity of the discipline would be based on the nature and circumstances of a violation and whether it was an officer’s first, second or third offense.
For example, the new guidelines state that an officer who “unnecessarily” strikes a handcuffed person should be suspended for a minimum of 10 days on a first offense. But depending on the severity of the violation, the officer could be fired on the first offense, the guidelines state.
Any officer who is caught falsifying an arrest, crime or investigative report should be directly sent to a board of rights hearing. Such hearings are generally held when the potential punishment exceeds a 22-day suspension.
Even under the new guidelines, however, supervisors retain discretion to choose within a range of penalties depending on the circumstances of an offense. Furthermore, supervisors are not legally bound to follow the guidelines.
“It should also be recognized that counseling and training may be more appropriate than discipline in specified situations,” the task force’s report said.
The task force that is proposing the new guidelines worked on the issue for more than a year. The committee consisted of police officers, a union representative and civilians, including an American Civil Liberties Union official.
“This is a historic document,” said ACLU public affairs director Allan Parachini, who was on the task force. “The department’s never had a coherent approach to discipline. It’s never articulated a philosophy of discipline before.”
Cmdr. Eric Lillo, a member of the committee, said the department has long been serious about disciplinary matters, but has never established written guidelines spelling out recommended penalties.
The guideline report is expected to be presented to the Police Commission for approval within the next several weeks, officials said.