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LAPD launches formal probe into allegations of intimidation in police gang units

Los Angeles police officials have launched a formal investigation into concerns that officers in one of the city’s most gang-plagued areas are intimidating other cops from signing a controversial financial disclosure form that is required to join the department’s anti-gang units.

So far, five officers have been removed from their field assignments at the LAPD’s 77th Street Division and will be transferred out of the area for their roles in two recent incidents.

The inquiry at the 77th Street Division comes six months after department leaders suspended anti-gang operations there and at a handful of other stations in order to rebuild units vacated entirely by officers who refused to comply with the disclosure rule.

Although department officials have made substantial progress recruiting officers to fill gaps left in gang units elsewhere, they have encountered more entrenched resistance among 77th Street officers and at one other station in South L.A.. At both, only about half of the anti-gang positions have been filled, said Deputy Chief Pat Gannon, who oversees operations in the city’s southern region.

To assess the extent of the resentment within the ranks of 77th Street officers, Gannon has formed a six-person group of investigators.

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“There are a lot of strong feelings about the financial disclosures, and people aren’t shy about sharing those feelings,” Gannon said. “That’s OK, but if people are reluctant to take the assignment because of how others are expressing themselves, we’ve got to step in and do something.”

Gannon ordered the probe after commanders learned in recent weeks of a July 7 party for 77th Street officers at a Gardena bar. At the entrance, a sign was posted that read something akin to “Anyone who signed financial disclosure not welcome,” Gannon said. The party was also billed as a “hood day” party — a term used by gangs to signify anniversary celebrations for their gangs. In a separate incident around the same time, a former 77th Street gang officer sent an email to others in the station in which he ridiculed an officer who had decided to sign the disclosure form and join the unit, Gannon said.

The disclosure policy, which is intended to help identify and deter corruption among the estimated 700 gang and narcotics officers who frequently handle cash, drugs and other contraband, has been a source of controversy since the idea was first introduced years ago. Department officials pushed the measure through in order to end years of monitoring by the federal government that followed the Rampart corruption scandal. They acted despite vigorous protests and legal challenges by police union leaders and rank-and-file officers who argued the disclosures were an invasion of privacy and would be useless in catching rogue cops.

Under the terms of the policy, officers must periodically report outside income, real estate holdings, stocks and other assets. They also have to report the size of bank accounts and debts, including mortgages and credit cards. And the disclosures apply to any financial holdings a cop shares with family members and business partners.

The disclosure plan, which was adopted in 2009, gave officers who were already assigned to the affected units until the end of March of this year to abide by the new rules or be moved back to regular patrol assignments. Few narcotics officers objected, and most gang officers complied. However, all but one of the roughly 80 gang officers in the department’s 77th, Southeast, Northeast and Hollenbeck divisions — areas that are home to some of the city’s most violent and active gangs — refused. Likewise, all members of smaller gang teams in Van Nuys and Devonshire said they would not adhere to the policy.

Needing time to recruit new officers before summer, when gang crime traditionally spikes, and wanting to avoid tension between outgoing and incoming officers, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck gave the go-ahead in February to shut these anti-gang units down. At the time, Beck, Gannon and others said they would not tolerate any attempts by officers to dissuade officers from joining.

The email and party incidents are the first problems to come to the attention of supervisors, Gannon said. And though they may have been meant as jokes and not explicit attempts to intimidate, Gannon said there was no room for leniency. “Some people are saying these incidents were just gallows humor,” Gannon said. “Well, it isn’t a joke to me. We can’t mess around with this.”

The five officers who are being transferred include a lieutenant who was at the party and did not object to the “hood day” references or the financial disclosure sign, Gannon said. Formal discipline investigations have been opened and, depending on the findings, the officers could face further punishments.

Operating at half-strength has not had a discernible impact on anti-gang operations at 77th Street station. So far this year, gang crime in the area is down more than 20% over the same period in 2010, according to department figures. However, a recent spate of gang-related shootings in South L.A. — including 14 over the Fourth of July weekend — demonstrates how quickly violence can spiral out of control in the area.

joel.rubin@latimes.com

andrew.blankstein@latimes.com


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