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Complaints Up, Discipline Down at LAPD, Study Says

Times Staff Writer

Although complaints against Los Angeles police employees were up last year, 46% fewer officers and civilian staff members were fired or suspended than in 2004, according to a report released by LAPD Chief William J. Bratton.

Last year, about 6,400 complaints were filed against police employees, an increase of nearly 4%, according to Cmdr. Eric Lillo, head of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Internal Affairs Group.

At the same time, a separate report by the chief -- to be considered by the Police Commission today -- said 421 employees were fired, quit under pressure or were suspended last year, nearly half the 784 staff members who were terminated or suspended in 2004.

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The LAPD has 9,357 police officers.

Lillo said the drop in the number of discipline cases was probably due in part to efforts by Bratton to punish those engaged in misconduct.

“Chief Bratton’s message about what is acceptable behavior and what is not acceptable and the removal or penalty that people will face has gotten through,” Lillo said.

Department officials note that, because of limited investigative staffing, fewer complaints that might have brought disciplinary action were resolved in 2005 than the year before. Because the department has had trouble meeting its recruitment goals, it has become more difficult to promote experienced officers to these investigative functions.

Civil rights attorney Samuel Paz, a member of the National Policing Accountability Project, called on the Police Commission to determine why complaints overall were up.

“Complaints have always been an early warning system for more systemic problems,” said Paz, who has sued the LAPD a number of times on behalf of citizens who filed complaints.

Calls to police union leaders for comment were not returned Monday.

The Police Commission is expected to seek an explanation for the uptick in complaints and the dramatic decrease in significant disciplinary action, according to Alan J. Skobin, vice president of the panel.

“It’s important for the commission to understand why there is a difference,” Skobin said Monday.

The increase in complaints for a second year in a row is being closely watched and examined by the department, according to Deputy Police Chief Michael Berkow.

“There is an upward trend,” Berkow said.

The deputy chief, who heads the department’s Professional Standards Bureau, said the increase may be partly due to efforts by the department to improve its complaint system. The department has conducted sting operations that have caught and disciplined officers for discouraging citizens from filing complaints.

The complaints tallied and categorized by the department include those filed by citizens, other officers, judges, prosecutors and the department itself, when officials become aware of misconduct allegations.

The department compiles an annual complaint report to fulfill the requirement of a federal consent decree the LAPD entered into as a result of the Rampart corruption scandal, in which officers were accused of framing suspects.

Some of the numbers in the report are difficult to compare, because a complaint filed in 2004 might not have its investigative and disciplinary processes closed until 2005 or later.

Still, the report does permit some comparison:

* Bratton’s report indicates that 21% of complaints investigated last year were sustained, meaning that misconduct was proved, compared to 23% in 2004. The department sustained 4% of the complaints made by the public, and 75% of the complaints filed by the department and other LAPD employees.

* Last year, 320 officers and civilian employees were suspended, compared with 560 the year before.

* In addition, 101 LAPD employees, including 81 officers, were fired, resigned, retired or demoted in 2005 as a result of complaints investigated by the department. That figure was down from 224 the year before.

The misconduct allegations most frequently proven last year involved “neglect of duty” (444) and “preventable traffic collision” (422) and “unbecoming conduct” (305).

Neglect of duty violations include failure to respond to a radio emergency call and failure to appear in court to testify in a case. Unbecoming conduct can include use of alcohol on the job.

In 2005 and the year before, 28 employees had unauthorized tactics complaints sustained against them.

Unauthorized tactics can include improper use of weapons and batons and unsound techniques while chasing suspects.

The number of employees found to have engaged in false imprisonment increased from 15 in 2004 to 20 last year, while sustained complaints of unauthorized force declined from 33 in 2004 to 19 last year.

The chief’s report also indicates that among the ranks of staff officers -- those of commander or higher rank -- 13 complaints were made and three were sustained.

Sustained complaints among staff officers included 12 counts of sexual misconduct, but the officer or officers involved were not identified in the report.

Andre Birotte Jr., the inspector general for the Police Commission, said it was hard to tell from the surface whether differences in the numbers of sustained complaints by categories signal a bigger problem.

“A spike of five [false imprisonment] complaints is not in and of itself a sign of a problem,” Birotte said, but he added, “We look at all the department’s discipline reports.”

*

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Complaints against personnel

Civilian and internal misconduct complaints against LAPD employees last year were up slightly compared to 2004, but 46% fewer employees were fired or suspended.

Number of sustained complaints against LAPD employees in 2005

Neglect of duty - 444

Preventable traffic collision - 422

Unbecoming conduct -- 305

Discourtesy - 82

False statements - 47

Unauthorized tactics - 28

False imprisonment - 20

Unauthorized force - 19

Unlawful search - 13

*

Source: Internal Affairs Group, Los Angeles Police Department


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