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Veteran police advisor tapped to be the next LAPD inspector general

Veteran police advisor tapped to be the next LAPD inspector general
New Los Angeles police officers walk into a graduation ceremony in 2016. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

A veteran police watchdog who currently advises Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell has been named the new inspector general for the Los Angeles Police Department.

The Police Commission unanimously appointed Mark P. Smith to the role, the civilian panel announced Tuesday. It marks a homecoming of sorts for Smith, who began his oversight career working for the inspector general’s office in 2005 after interning there during law school.

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“It’s where I developed my passion, my care for this industry,” Smith, 40, told police commissioners after the announcement. “It’s what allowed me to take other jobs across the country and learn from different departments of different sizes facing different challenges.”

As inspector general, Smith will play a crucial role in the civilian oversight of the 10,000-officer agency. The inspector general’s office, which is independent of the LAPD, monitors a wide array of matters, including complaints against officers, department practices, and shootings and other serious force used by police.

The inspector general’s office also acts as the investigative arm of the Police Commission, the five-person civilian panel that oversees the LAPD. The office has taken on more work in recent years as the commission adopted a more hands-on approach to oversight, pushing the Police Department toward new policies and training intended to help reduce shootings by officers.

In his new role, Smith will play a key role in monitoring those changes along with other issues facing the department: the ongoing rollout of body cameras, the yearlong test of drones, the commission’s push for more transparency.

Smith’s appointment also comes at a pivotal moment for a department on the cusp of new leadership. LAPD Chief Charlie Beck announced last week that he will retire in June, ending his eight-year tenure as chief and launching a search for his successor.

In an interview Tuesday, Smith said he was humbled by the appointment. That summer internship at the inspector general’s office, he said, is where he first began to understand the crucial role of civilian oversight in law enforcement.

“That’s the way for me, with my legal degree, to provide a public service,” he said. “I’m not sworn. I haven’t worn a badge. But what I can do is help with effective oversight.”

One of Smith’s primary goals, he said, was to provide a “constant source of accountability” — monitoring the department consistently, not just after a crisis.

“It’s really that constant eyes and ears from an outside perspective that over time is what helps an agency,” he said.

Smith will replace Alex Bustamante, a former federal prosecutor who left the inspector general position last year to become senior vice president and chief compliance officer at the University of California.

Smith is one of two constitutional policing advisors for the Sheriff’s Department, a job he has held since February 2016. There, he also monitors and advises on internal investigations and disciplinary matters, and responds to deputy shootings and other major incidents.

Previously, he worked as the first independent police auditor of the Bay Area Rapid Transit system, a role created after the high-profile fatal shooting of Oscar Grant by a BART police officer in 2009. Smith also worked in Chicago overseeing police there.

Josh Rubenstein, an LAPD spokesman, called civilian oversight a “cornerstone of community policing.”

“We welcome the opportunity to work with the new inspector general and look forward to a productive relationship as we reaffirm our commitment to accountability and transparency,” he said.

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In a statement, the union representing rank-and-file LAPD officers also welcomed Smith’s appointment, urging him to be a “fair and impartial voice for common sense solutions that will improve the LAPD.”

Steve Soboroff, president of the Police Commission, said Smith’s familiarity with the LAPD and its interactions with the civilian panel made him an attractive candidate.

“It’s almost like he was born to do this,” Soboroff said. “Some people want to play football, some people want to play on the Dodgers. He interned with the LAPD. This is a dream come true for him.”

Smith will start next month.

“It’s a big deal for me to have the chance to come back to the agency and the office where all this started for me,” he said. “That just doesn’t happen that often.”

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