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Authority of LAPD Watchdog Is Cut Back

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Los Angeles Police Commission President Edith Perez has restricted information on misconduct complaints available to the panel’s inspector general, a step both the civilian watchdog and police reform experts regard as a sharp reduction of the position’s powers.

The new definition of the inspector general’s authority--detailed in a memo signed by Perez and addressed to Chief Bernard C. Parks--represents an abrupt departure from recommendations advocated by the 1991 Christopher Commission.

Several city leaders and police reformers Friday joined the inspector general, Katherine Mader, in her outrage over the memo, saying the new definition insulates the LAPD’s discipline process from any meaningful scrutiny.

According to Perez’s memo, the inspector general can examine misconduct complaints only after the department has investigated and resolved them. The Christopher Commission, which proposed a number of police reforms after the beating of Rodney G. King, urged the creation of a strong civilian inspector general responsible for “monitoring the progress of complaints through the [internal affairs] investigation process, and auditing the results of [those] investigations.”

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Memos obtained by The Times show that Perez has limited Mader’s review of misconduct complaints to “adjudicated complaints,” instead of giving her the authority to monitor the entire investigative process. The commission never has held a public discussion or vote on the change in the scope of Mader’s duties.

Three of Perez’s four colleagues denied Friday that the board wants to restrict Mader’s access to information and said the Sept. 22 memo may have to be rewritten.

“I think the memo can be misconstrued and we ought to clarify it,” said Commissioner Gerald L. Chaleff. “I would never support anything that would inhibit the ability of the inspector general to do her job.”

Commissioners Dean Hansell and T. Warren Jackson agreed.

“We have to fix it,” Hansell said.

Perez did not return calls for comment.

Police Commission Executive Director Joe Gunn, however, said he drafted the memo for Perez and does not believe it needs to be changed. He said Mader has told him that she has never needed access to complaint information before cases have been adjudicated.

“What she has done for the last two years has not been changed by these protocols,” Gunn said.

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But Mader, who did not return calls for comment, wrote in an Oct. 16 letter to Gunn that the redefinition of her powers “would materially impact the day-to-day operations of the office of the inspector general.”

Others strongly concurred.

“The Christopher Commission report clearly is to the contrary of what I understand this new policy to be,” said Mark Epstein, who served as deputy general counsel to the blue-ribbon panel. “I’m troubled by this.”

Rabbi Gary Greenebaum, a former Police Commission president, said he too was disturbed by the development.

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“It’s clear to me that such a change, as I understand it, alters both the spirit and the letter of the Christopher report.”

Councilwoman Laura Chick, chairwoman of the council’s Public Safety Committee, said she has “had growing concerns about the independence and integrity of the inspector general position. I plan to take appropriate action as necessary.”

Several commission sources said the chief had been consulted on the memo before it was finalized with the word “adjudicated.” The chief declined through a spokesman to comment on the matter.

To some department observers, Perez’s memo reflects the ongoing strife between the commission and Mader. Some police reformers said they fear that the commission, or at least Perez, is trying to either push Mader out of the job or make a case to fire her.

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Several months ago, Mader complained that some department officials had not provided her with requested information. The commissioners held a closed-door discussion on the matter and decided to define the inspector general’s role so LAPD officials understood how to respond to her requests.

But instead of improving Mader’s ability to access information, the memo--as written--appears to restrict it.

Perez’s memo narrowly defines the broad oversight powers that voters approved for the inspector general in 1992.

According to the City Charter, the inspector general shall “audit, investigate and oversee the Police Department’s handling of complaints of misconduct by police officers and civilian employees.” The charter does not restrict the inspector general’s authority to adjudicated complaints.

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Moreover, the memo undermines the inspector general’s authorities as defined by a public vote of a previous police commission panel two years ago.

Chaleff said Friday that he will request holding a public discussion of the Perez memo so the commission can clarify its positions.

Hansell said Perez should have consulted the other commissioners before finalizing the memo. Two commissioners said Friday that they had not seen Perez’s memo.

“In hindsight it should have come before the entire board,” Hansell said.

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Several commission sources questioned whether Perez even had the authority to unilaterally define the inspector general’s position without a vote of her colleagues.

To some department observers, Perez’s memo was further evidence that she has too closely aligned herself with the police chief and is failing to exert adequate oversight over him. Some said they also were disappointed with the other commissioners.

“I would ask where are the other four members of the Police Commission?” Greenebaum said.


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