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Police commissioner calls for inspector general to investigate LAPD’s troubled cadet program

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LAPD Chief Charlie Beck gives keynote speech at the graduation ceremony of the department’s cadets at USC’s Galen Center on Saturday.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

The president of the civilian panel that oversees the Los Angeles Police Department said he will direct the LAPD’s watchdog to review its cadet program, the latest inquiry stemming from a series of disturbing allegations involving the long-championed youth program.

Matt Johnson, the head of the Police Commission, said he would ask Inspector General Alex Bustamante to look into how the LAPD recruits and supervises its teenage cadets, as well as how the department oversees the program in general.

The goal, Johnson said, is to “ensure that this incident is an exception and not a systematic failure.”

He was referring to the recent arrest of a 31-year-old officer accused of having a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old cadet, allegations that surfaced after seven teenage cadets were arrested on suspicion of stealing police cars and other equipment.

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Chief Charlie Beck quickly ordered a “top-to-bottom” review of the cadet program, along with the systems the department uses to check out and track the equipment used by officers. City Councilman Mitch Englander called for an audit of all LAPD youth programs, questioning how the LAPD supervises relations between minors and the officers who mentor them.

A review by the inspector general would allow the five-person Police Commission to publicly discuss the findings — and potentially take action. Johnson said he would also ask the inspector general to look specifically at the department’s equipment rooms and how police gear is secured and tracked. He said he would ask LAPD brass for a public presentation in the coming weeks on those procedures.

Johnson noted that Beck had pledged a full investigation, assigning some of the LAPD’s top detectives to handle the case.

“I am confident that he will get to the bottom of this and ensure all responsible parties, especially supervisors, are held fully accountable,” Johnson said. “The Police Commission will be tracking this closely.”

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Bustamante confirmed he would conduct an investigation.

Another commissioner, Cynthia McClain-Hill, said she would rely on the chief and the inspector general to help understand how the alleged acts occurred and to find ways to prevent such problems in the future. It was too soon to know exactly how to do that, she said, but the Police Commission — as well as the LAPD — was committed to helping the cadet program flourish in the years to come.

“It sparks outrage, inspires sadness — but also resolve,” she said in an interview. “Every member of this department is outraged at these allegations and feel resolve on behalf of these young people in this program to keep their heads high and continue down the path that they’ve chosen.”

The case exploded a week and a half ago, when three cadets were caught driving two stolen police cars. As police investigated how and why the teenagers took the cars, they uncovered details that continued to stun the department.

The cadets had allegedly taken more equipment: police radios, Tasers, a bulletproof vest and a cruiser that had been missing for at least two weeks. Four more cadets were arrested. Investigators learned the teens had pulled over at least one person while in a stolen police car, warning the driver before letting them go.

Last week, perhaps the most explosive accusation surfaced: Officer Robert Cain was accused of having sex with one of the cadets suspected in the thefts. Beck personally handcuffed Cain Thursday morning. Later, investigators found more than 100 guns inside the officer’s home, raising more questions.

Cain has not yet been charged. The officer remains free on bail and is scheduled to appear in court next month.

Police officials have expressed an array of emotions in the whirlwind week and a half: disgust at Cain’s alleged acts. Disappointment in the cadets accused of stealing. But also a continued support for the 2,000-plus teenagers currently enrolled in the cadet program — including those caught up in the scandal.

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Johnson, McClain-Hill and another commissioner, Steve Soboroff, expressed similar sentiments: If the allegations against Cain prove true, they said, he should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. But they softened when talking about the teenagers who had been arrested.

“I am deeply disappointed in the actions of these seven individuals. Their actions were dangerous and could have had disastrous consequences,” Johnson said. “That said, it is important to remember that they are kids.”

“They were and continue to be young people,” McClain-Hill said. “I would support counseling, diversion and whatever other methods that we may have to mitigate the damage that they’ve done and to give them an opportunity to build the kinds of lives that brought them to the cadet program in the first place.”

Soboroff called it a “seminal moment” for the teens.

“They’re at a fork in the road,” he said. “I hope they pick the right way. If they do, I’m first in line to try to help.”

kate.mather@latimes.com


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