The true extent of the Rampart scandal still is not known and it increasingly appears that it never will be known. Essential questions remain: How many officers in the Rampart CRASH unit were involved in the illegal activity? How many officers knew and were complicit by their silence? How high in the chain of command was there involvement or knowledge? To what extent were there similar problems in other CRASH units and other units and divisions?
None of the reports on the Rampart scandal have investigated or answered these questions. As a result, it cannot be known how many innocent people remain in prison as a result of police fabrication of evidence and perjury or how many officers remain in the LAPD who should have been disciplined and prosecuted.
The only way to uncover the full extent of the scandal would have been to create an independent commission with broad investigative powers. The commission would need the authority to provide immunity to officers from discipline for not having previously reported wrongdoing that they witnessed. Several officers personally have told me that they have information about misconduct in the Rampart Division and elsewhere, but they are afraid that they will lose their badges if they come forward now.
New York City in 1993 created just such a panel after serious corruption within its police department was exposed. The Mollen Commission had broad investigative powers and the ability to grant officers immunity. The commission’s success in uncovering a scandal that had infected the police department should have been Los Angeles’ model.
Los Angeles, however, has refused to create such a commission and instead has had a series of reports that proposed reforms, but never investigated the extent of police abuses and corruption. Last year, when the Rampart scandal was first uncovered, City Councilman Joel Wachs introduced a motion to establish such a commission. Police Chief Bernard C. Parks and Mayor Richard Riordan persuaded the City Council to reject the proposal.
Initially, it was said that the Police Department’s Board of Inquiry would investigate. But the Board of Inquiry minimized the problem, blaming it on mediocre management and operations in the division and a few bad cops. It offered no basis for this conclusion and it did not consider similar problems in other divisions.
Further efforts to create an independent review commission were stymied by the claim that the Police Commission would establish its own investigative body. This group, chaired by attorney Richard Drooyan, released its report in November. Although it made many excellent proposals for reform, Drooyan’s committee did not investigate the extent of wrongdoing in Rampart and elsewhere in the LAPD.
In December 1999, then-Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti said that as many as 3,000 possibly tainted cases needed to be reviewed. What happened to this review? How was it done and what were the results?
Moreover, there still has not been an inquiry into the role of the district attorney’s office, the public defender’s office and the judges in contributing to and failing to uncover the Rampart scandal. When innocent people are convicted, as at least dozens were in the Rampart scandal, all of the participants in the criminal justice system must share the blame.
There obviously is an overwhelming desire on the part of city officials to get past Rampart. But ignorance is not bliss, especially when it means that innocent people remain in prison and corrupt officers remain on the force.
It is not too late for the City Council to act to uncover the full extent of the Rampart scandal by creating a Mollen-type commission to conduct a full probe. But it seems doubtful that there is a majority of the City Council with the courage to stand up to the police chief and the mayor. Whether or not the goal has been a cover-up, that is exactly what has been achieved.