May 17, 2007

3% of LASD complaints lead to formal investigations

File this in the "we already figured that" file. This is what happens when you have a lower profile than the LAPD (and "fly under the radar") and no direct city council control or citizen watchdogs over an agency. LASD provides services in many small cities like Lakewood whose city councils rarely question LASD actions, unlike the LA City Council which along with the ACLU and a host of other organizations is watching LAPD like a hawk.,1,4409673.story?coll=la-headlines-pe-california

From the Los Angeles Times
Study faults some deputy probes
L.A. County sheriff's response to complaints is found to be improved but inconsistent overall.

By Stuart Pfeifer
Times Staff Writer

May 17, 2007

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department has improved the way it investigates allegations of deputy misconduct, but it often reduces discipline without explanation, according to a report released Wednesday.

Merrick Bobb, an attorney hired by the Board of Supervisors to review the Sheriff's Department, studied hundreds of misconduct investigations initiated in 2005. He found that the department has made "great strides" since the early 1990s in investigating public complaints about deputies' behavior.

In most cases, the department investigates complaints thoroughly and objectively, Bobb found. He said investigations were inadequate in about one in five cases, faulting sheriff's managers in those cases for failing to interview all pertinent witnesses, writing biased or incomplete reports or improperly documenting investigations.

"The LASD's commitment to the fair investigation of citizens' complaints has strengthened considerably," wrote Bobb, who was hired in 1993 to monitor the department's reform efforts following allegations of excessive force and concern about the citizen complaint process.

The department handles complaints about deputies differently from the Los Angeles Police Department. Pursuant to a consent decree, the LAPD must formally investigate all complaints through its internal affairs unit. The Sheriff's Department handles complaints from the public informally at the station to which the deputy is assigned. Sheriff's station supervisors can request formal internal affairs investigations of citizens' complaints. Bobb found that just 3% of complaints lead to formal investigations.

The report also concluded that the department too often agrees to reduce discipline imposed on deputies who violate department policies ranging from the use of force during arrests to unsafe driving of patrol cars and off-duty incidents, such as drunk driving.

In one instance, a deputy received a three-day suspension for making racially insensitive comments in a telephone conversation with a member of the public and for telling the caller, "I don't have time for this," before hanging up. After the deputy complained about his punishment, a captain put the suspension in abeyance, meaning it would be imposed only if the deputy committed a new offense.

"In our view, the captain fumbled and the deputy recovered the ball and went on to score a touchdown," Bobb wrote in his report.

Sheriff Lee Baca said he believes holding discipline in abeyance provides incentive for deputies to reform.

"Settlement agreements give management a stronger capacity [to prevent] future misconduct," Baca said. "They've agreed not to transgress again."

The department reduced discipline in 84% of the cases in which a suspension was imposed, the report said.

Most often, the discipline was reduced after deputies complained to their captains that they thought their punishment was excessive, the report said.

"The department must stop letting the grievance process be a one-way ticket to a reduced discipline," Bobb wrote. The report said it appears the department "plea bargains" discipline cases as a matter of routine.

Bobb and his staff studied investigations of deputies assigned to six sheriff's stations: Century, Compton, Lakewood, Palmdale, Pico Rivera and Santa Clarita.

In one instance, a deputy had accumulated 11 complaints of discourteous conduct in the past three years, including six in which his conduct was faulted by supervisors. Despite this record, the deputy was not subjected to a broad investigation.

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