Los Angeles Police Chief Bernard C. Parks and representatives of the city attorney's office told a closed session of the City Council on Wednesday that Los Angeles ultimately will have to pay as much as $125 million to settle lawsuits stemming from the Rampart Division corruption scandal.
According to sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity, council members reacted with sighs and gasps when Chief Deputy City Atty. Tim McOsker told them to brace for a barrage of costly lawsuits growing out of more than 120 cases.
"It's like a new type of natural disaster," said one source. "I can tell you that the council was overwhelmed and burdened."
Although he declined to specify the number of officers who have been relieved of duty in the course of the investigation, Parks for the first time told the council that rapid expansion of the police force--a central goal of Mayor Richard Riordan's administration--may have contributed to the problems at Rampart, sources said. In an effort to meet hiring goals, young and inexperienced officers were hired in a short period, taxing the department's efforts to train them and provide them with adequate supervision, Parks asserted, according to sources.
The chief's focus on the pace of departmental expansion may foreshadow at least one conclusion of the LAPD's board of inquiry into the Rampart scandal. Its report on the affair is months overdue.
According to sources, McOsker's monetary estimates were based on the number of potential claims and the city attorney's experience of average payouts in such cases.
In recent weeks there has been much talk in law enforcement circles about the costs and ramifications of the Rampart scandal, which includes allegations of illegal shootings, beatings, perjury, false arrests and witness intimidation.
Council Hears First Full Briefing
Wednesday marked the first time that council members have been given a full briefing on the matter by Parks and officials from the city attorney's office.
Appearing calm and methodical, Parks shared with the council the details of his department's still-expanding investigation.
"There was a lot of pressure on the department to grow," one source said. As another put it: "There were questions on whether this expansion was done in the best way."
Riordan won election in 1993 promising to add 3,000 officers to the LAPD in five years, but fell just short of that goal. Since the mayor took office, the LAPD's ranks have swelled from 7,400 officers to the current 9,475.
Riordan declined Wednesday to comment on the inferences to be drawn from the chief's comments, simply saying that he "continues to expect the LAPD's management to adequately oversee the training and deployment of the department's officers."
According to sources, council members came away from the briefing apprehensive that the LAPD's worst corruption scandal in more than half a century might involve other stations. That anxiety, sources said, was fueled by the fact that Parks declined to give a definitive answer when asked whether the scandal would be confined to the Rampart Division.
"Instead of the [Police Department] knowing that the problems are confined to Rampart, they are hoping it is confined to Rampart," a source said.
In recent weeks, city officials have discussed among themselves the possibility of asking the public to pass a bond measure to cover the monetary liability the city is likely to incur as people falsely imprisoned or arrested by officers caught up in the Rampart scandal file suit against the city. On Wednesday, however, city officials opted to save that discussion for a later date.
Instead, they were told in what a source characterized as great detail to prepare not only for lawsuits and settlements, but also for other costs, such as hiring more trial attorneys to defend the city in cases brought by Rampart victims. The city will also have to find more office space in which the attorneys can work.
During the closed session, some council members asked why the briefing was held outside public view.
Call for Public Meetings
After the meeting, Councilman Joel Wachs said he will ask that future sessions on the Rampart situation be held in public.
"If we are going to restore the public's confidence, these discussions should be held in public," said Wachs, who is running for mayor. "This is of paramount public importance."
About the scandal, he added: "It's bad. We all know it's bad. And it ain't over yet."
As a rule, the council discusses pending litigation in closed session. Since the Rampart scandal is expected to involve so many lawsuits, it falls into that category.
One City Council member, who asked not to be named, said there is concern that the LAPD is not considering the Rampart problem with enough urgency. The council member described the briefing as calm and "rather cerebral."
"This is unprecedented what we are dealing with, and it has to be dealt with accordingly," the council member said.
Late last year, the district attorney's office gave the public defender's office a list of 3,000 cases in which officers involved in the Rampart scandal were subpoenaed to testify. Two of those officers, including Rafael Perez, the policeman-turned-informant at the center of the scandal, have resigned. Although the chief declined to give precise numbers, sources have told The Times that two others were fired, two were relieved of duty and eight have been assigned to their homes.
Times staff writer Patrick McGreevy contributed to this story.