LAPD Condemned by Its Own Inquiry Into Rampart Scandal
The Los Angeles Police Department failed time and again to take steps that might have headed off the worst corruption scandal in its history, according to a sweeping self-indictment prepared by the department’s own leaders.
In a letter accompanying the long-awaited Board of Inquiry report into the corruption centered in the department’s Rampart Division, which will be released today, Police Chief Bernard C. Parks called the scandal a “life-altering experience for the Los Angeles Police Department” in which corrupt officers took advantage of lax supervision to carry out criminal acts.
“We as an organization provided the opportunity,” Parks wrote.
The 362-page report was given to Mayor Richard Riordan and members of the Police Commission on Tuesday evening and will be released to the public and the rest of the city’s elected leaders today. It was provided to The Times on Tuesday by top officials of the LAPD.
According to the report, many of the breakdowns that allowed the Rampart police scandal to fester and spread--including failures to check the backgrounds of police recruits, to monitor officer misconduct and to supervise officers in the field--remain uncorrected despite mounting public and political criticism of the LAPD and the city leadership.
Those disclosures effectively put the city’s entire political leadership on the spot. Most directly, they demonstrate that the LAPD ignored some calls for reform and created an atmosphere ripe for corruption. At the same time, they also suggest that Riordan and City Council members backed policies that eroded the Police Department’s ability to control wayward officers.
The results, by the LAPD’s own admission, have been costly--and tragic.
“This scandal has devastated our relationship with the public we serve and threatened the integrity of our entire criminal justice system,” the Board of Inquiry report concludes. “Distrust, cynicism, fear of the police, and an erosion of community law and order are the inevitable result of a law enforcement agency whose ethics and integrity have become suspect.”
While the report admits breakdowns at every level of the department--and in the process sketching a broader, more damning picture even than the 1991 Christopher Commission did in the wake of the Rodney G. King beating--its 108 recommendations essentially focus on internal remedies. A number highlight ways to strengthen the police chief’s power to investigate, discipline and even force the retirement of officers. They pointedly do not endorse creation of outside systems for subjecting the LAPD to additional scrutiny.
Unlike the Christopher Commission, which subtly but unmistakably called on Chief Daryl F. Gates to retire, the Board of Inquiry is generally, and not surprisingly, complimentary of moves by Parks, who supervises the members of the board and has repeatedly pledged to root out corruption in the department.
Parks’ own role in the events at issue is somewhat blurred: Although he was named chief after the incidents at the center of the Rampart probe occurred, he served as the LAPD’s second-ranking official from 1992 to 1994. He was demoted that year and put in charge of special investigations, including internal affairs, but from that point on, he was kept at arm’s length from many department decisions by then-Chief Willie L. Williams.
Parks Takes Share of Blame
In an interview Tuesday, Parks said he shared in the departmentwide blame for Rampart.
“I don’t think anybody who’s been at this department for any length of time can say: ‘I’ve done a good job with this,’ ” he said. “And that’s including me.”
The LAPD’s scathing self-appraisal could bolster both sides of the argument over whether outside review of the department is needed: On one hand, the report says the problems it documents are widespread and serious; on the other hand, the city’s police leadership is demonstrating unprecedented candor in publicly admitting those flaws.
In fact, the LAPD’s analysis of itself cites area after area in which police officers and their supervisors failed the department and the public.
A few examples from the report:
* “A breakdown in front-line supervision was certainly apparent in Rampart.”
* “Time and again, the board found clear patterns of misconduct that went undetected. . . . Regardless of the source, complainants all seemed to be viewed as recalcitrant, and their allegations were not taken seriously.”
* “People are making personnel and promotional decisions unaware of matters that certainly would affect their decisions.”
* “Our personnel evaluations have little or no credibility at any level in the organization.”
* “The command team at Rampart during most of this five-year period lacked cohesive direction.”
* “As painful as it may be, we must recognize that this problem [failure to perform adequate background investigations on new hires] has not been solved, but it must be if we are to provide the people of this city with the quality of law enforcement it deserves.”
Some of those issues, as well as others identified in the report, are hardly new.
Police critics have been complaining for more than a decade that the LAPD ignores civilian complaints about officer misconduct. Under Parks, the department recently revamped its procedures for evaluating citizen complaints, but the report makes it clear that the department’s unwillingness to take officer misconduct seriously continued well into the 1990s, long after the Christopher Commission, the American Civil Liberties Union and others had pointed to the problem.
In 1998, the LAPD’s leadership announced that it had fulfilled nearly all the recommendations of the Christopher Commission. The new report provides striking evidence to the contrary, making it clear that a number of key recommendations remain unresolved.
Among those is the long-standing question of whether the LAPD does enough to identify and track so-called problem officers.
For years after the Christopher report, the department resisted attempts to equip it with a computerized system for recording complaints against police officers and other performance measures. Finally, under pressure from the civilian Police Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice, the LAPD adopted a system known as TEAMS--an acronym for Training, Evaluation and Management System.
In the new report, however, department leaders concede that the system has fallen far short of expectations. One key problem, according to the report, is that essential data are being left out of the TEAMS profiles of officers.
“Several major personnel investigations were found that did not appear on the officers’ TEAMS history even though the matter had been adjudicated for some time,” the report states.
The result is that a supervisor, in deciding whether a particular officer was suitable for a sensitive assignment, would not necessarily have the benefit of knowing that officer’s full work and complaint history.
That disclosure is sure to create political fallout. It raises questions, for instance, of why the Riordan administration has allowed such a key Christopher Commission reform to languish despite its public pledges to implement those changes and after years of publicly clamoring for the implementation of the tracking system.
It also could annoy federal officials, who have monitored the officer tracking system and insisted that the LAPD adopt strong controls.
Another section of the LAPD report that revives long-standing concerns is its analysis of the role that police buildups have played in allowing tainted recruits to find places in the department.
Specifically, the report mentions--without naming--four officers who were hired despite criminal records that should have precluded them from being employed.
Three of those recruits were hired before the 1991 Christopher report, which documented some of the breakdowns in background checks. But the fourth, according to the report, was hired in 1994 despite the fact that he sold drugs as a juvenile and was involved in a “vehicle tampering incident” as an adult. That officer was hired after the reforms allegedly had been implemented and after Riordan had become mayor, elected largely on his pledge to add 3,000 police officers to the ranks in four years.
As such, the hiring of that officer makes it clear that the reforms intended to solve the screening issues identified in 1991 were not foolproof in 1994. And the report indicates that the problems continue to this day, partly because of conflicts between the police and personnel departments over officer hiring.
“This problem,” it states flatly, “has not been solved.”
Opposition From Union Expected
Other recommendations and observations contained in the report will antagonize different interests.
Police union leaders, for instance, are likely to oppose recommendations for expanded use of polygraphs, broadened powers to investigate officers’ financial records, and expanded authority to force the retirements of certain officers. The Board of Inquiry also recommended extending the one-year statute of limitations on imposing serious discipline on officers found guilty of misconduct. Officers and their union have long fought to protect that limit and will undoubtedly continue to do so in the face of the study.
In each case, the board recommendations suggest that Parks, who is passionately disliked by the union, needs more authority over the officers beneath him. That too is destined to rile the union leadership.
Another recommendation, calling for mandatory rotations in certain sensitive units, will also be controversial within the LAPD, where assignment to some operations is coveted and relinquished only reluctantly.
Meanwhile, some state and local officials may question the changes in state and local law needed to give Parks and his top staff those powers--proposals that in some cases also will cost money but that the report argues will pay for themselves in reduced city liability and disciplinary expenses.
Despite the scores of recommendations and criticisms, the LAPD report for the most part endorses the department’s current policies and procedures. The fact that corruption took such deep root in Rampart--and perhaps elsewhere--is an indictment of the officers who failed to carry out those procedures, not of the procedures themselves, according to the Board of Inquiry.
Although that gives the report a sometimes odd tone, defending a system that it admits failed badly, it also provides for some of the document’s most evident soul-searching.
One passage in particular warns of the consequences when police let down their guard.
“Essentially, many of the problems found by this [Board of Inquiry] boil down to people failing to do their jobs with a high level of consistency and integrity,” the report states. “Unfortunately, we found this to be true at all levels of the organization, including top managers, first-line supervisors and line personnel. Clearly, pride in one’s work and a commitment to do things correctly the first time seems to have waned.”
In the interview with Parks, the chief sounded the same theme.
“Clearly,” he said, “we have to stop accepting mediocre work.”
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
“Time and again, the board found clear patterns of misconduct that went undetected. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the investigation of personnel complaints made by the Rampart community. Regardless of the source, complainants all seemed to be viewed as recalcitrant and their allegations were not taken seriously by some of the supervisors assigned to conduct the investigations.” --Los Angeles Police Department’s Board of Inquiry report
* THE ‘RAMPART WAY’
Report describes a cocky, ‘us versus them’ mind-set. A16
* OUTSIDE PROBE REJECTED
City Council votes down a call for an independent inquiry. B1