Los Angeles police officials this week defended officers who privately purchased Smith & Wesson handguns at a special discount, saying they did not believe the officers violated city ethics rules when buying the guns after evaluating them for a new department contract.
The purchase was scrutinized in a recent report by Inspector General Alex Bustamante, who said the officers in the unit that evaluated the Smith & Wesson pistols used their relationship with the gun company to get a special discount for officers in the same unit, a possible violation of city ethics rules.
The report also raised concerns about the level of oversight of how equipment was evaluated by the LAPD before it was purchased, along with the amount of training officers receive about the city’s ethics rules.
On Tuesday, LAPD officials told the Police Commission they did not believe the discount purchase violated ethics rules largely because the officers bought the guns from Smith & Wesson, not from the Smith & Wesson dealer who was awarded the contract with the city to provide the LAPD’s guns.
The Firearms and Tactics Section officers privately bought the discounted guns so they could become more familiar with them and better train other officers, LAPD officials said. At the time, the department had funding to buy only about 200 guns -- not enough to issue the weapons to recruits as well as the training staff.
But LAPD officials agreed that the process of evaluating new equipment for the LAPD needed tightening up. They acknowledged that the division tasked with coordinating and supervising the evaluation of the gun was left out of the process.
The department also said it was expanding the amount of training LAPD officials receive about the statements of economic interest that some are required to file with the city. Those officials will now receive “face-to-face” training with the city Ethics Commission instead of the two-hour online course offered now, Deputy Chief Bill Murphy said.
“There are some things we could have done a little bit better on,” LAPD Chief Charlie Beck told reporters after the meeting. “Do I think there was any evil intent? Absolutely not. Do I think that the officers willingly violated any of the ethics codes? No, I do not.”
Bustamante’s report, made public Friday, said that the group of officers bought about $27,000 worth of discounted guns and magazines in a “one-time, bulk purchase” last year shortly after Smith & Wesson became the LAPD’s standard-issue duty weapon.
The Firearms and Tactics Sections officers cut the deal with the gun company at a Las Vegas gun show, even though Smith & Wesson had previously refused another request on behalf of the department for a similar discount for all LAPD officers who might want to privately purchase the pistols, the report said.
Although the unit’s officers were allowed to purchase various pistol models and calibers, the report found that the average discount for Smith & Wesson M&P 9-millimeter handguns was about $125 to $130 off the already reduced price of $455 usually offered to law enforcement officers.
City ethics rules prohibit city employees who are required to file statements of economic interest from soliciting gifts or accepting gifts of more than $100 from a “restricted source” -- someone who has sought or signed a contract with the city employee’s agency.
Bustamante’s report said eight of the 42 officers who bought the guns were required to file such statements.
The police commissioners did not say at Tuesday’s meeting whether they believed the officers violated the ethics rules.
Vice President Steve Soboroff said he didn’t see any “intentional ethical violation.” But another commissioner, Kathleen Kim, called the findings “deeply troubling.”
“The concern with a subset of department employees purchasing the Smith & Wesson weapon at a discounted rate is the appearance of impropriety,” she said. “The role of a contractor ... is simply one step removed.”
Arif Alikhan, the LAPD’s special assistant for constitutional policing, noted that the city signed the gun contract before the discount deal was made. It was also common, he said, for gun companies to sell discounted weapons to training officers so police could feel “competent and confident” with the new weapons.
Alikhan said he believed the report did not portray the full context of how the guns were evaluated and procured.
Bustamante called for improvements in the evaluation and procurement process and said the department’s staff needed to be better educated on the city’s ethics rules.
“Should we be trying to guard people from putting themselves in a position that may appear to be a conflict?” he said. “I think the answer should be yes.”
Matt Johnson, the Police Commission’s president, said that “from the 40,000-foot perspective, I think we can all agree that the whole process needs to be tightened up.”
The Police Commission directed the department and inspector general to report back in 30 days with recommendations on how to address the concerns outlined in the report.
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