December 21, 2007

L.A. County Sheriff's lax investigation of use-of-force cases

This story was only reported in a few newspapers whereas the related issue of how Paris Hilton and Mel Gibson were treated was given 10 times the amount of press in this Hollywood celebrity obsessed culture. The same "Special Counsel" also reported on the celebrity issues. We dont care about people killed by LA Sheriff's but we do want to know if Mel got a ride to the tow yard by a Sheriff!? All joking aside, both issues point to the fact that the LASD is poorly run and managed. This leads to deputies doing whatever they want in the field as they have such wide discretion and no one to call them on it. And what is the cause? Well one major cause is Baca having zero management skills and being "promoted" (by the voters not knowing who to vote for) to the point where he is in over his head (the "peter principle"). The other cause is police unions. Without the ability to fire deputies or dock their pay you will never have the ability to enforce rules. Period. So do all the studies you want and get all the oversight and consent decrees that you want. If the officers union challenges managements every move then management is held hostage. Lets face it. The unions protect rogue cops. As far as consent decrees and unions go just look at the story regarding the LAPD at the very bottom of this page.,1,2351119.story
From the Los Angeles Times
Report faults internal affairs' shooting probes
L.A. County sheriff's monitor cites lax investigation of use-of-force cases.
By Stuart Pfeifer
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

December 20, 2007

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department failed to thoroughly investigate half of its recent use-of-force cases, according to a monitor's report released Wednesday.

Special Counsel Merrick Bobb, who monitors the Sheriff's Department under a contract with the county, said he was concerned that internal affairs investigators didn't interview several deputies who fired weapons at suspects. Instead, the investigators relied on previous interviews of the deputies by homicide detectives.

Bobb, whose staff reviewed dozens of deputies' use of force from 2004 and 2005, also concluded that some of the department's internal affairs detectives appeared to side with deputies while interviewing them.

For example, while investigating the shooting of a juvenile in Compton in 2004, an investigator said, "very good," or "perfect," when a deputy answered questions in a manner that appeared to justify the shooting, according to Bobb's report.

The report found some things to commend, however. It said the Office of Independent Review, which monitors sheriff's internal affairs investigations, had provided useful oversight and improved the thoroughness of the investigations. It also noted that the department's internal affairs process has become a model for agencies across the country.

Sheriff's Division Chief Roberta Abner said the department, in response to Bobb's concerns, recently adopted a policy that requires internal affairs investigators to interview all deputies who shoot suspects, even if homicide detectives already had spoken with the deputies.

By policy, homicide detectives review deputy shootings to help determine whether the deputies were justified. Deputies now will be interviewed first by homicide detectives conducting a criminal investigation and then by internal affairs investigators to determine whether a shooting was within department policy.

In the report, Bobb said he found the review of one deputy-involved shooting particularly troubling. The deputy shot a juvenile whom he said had shot at him. None of six witnesses said they saw the juvenile with a gun, and a gunshot residue test found no evidence that the youth had fired a weapon.

Deputies said they found a handgun in a nearby bush, but there was no evidence linking the juvenile to the gun. In addition, the deputy gave conflicting accounts of the shooting, the report said. He told one investigator he did not see what happened to the gun but told another he saw the juvenile throw it toward the bush, the report said.

Based on the deputy's statements, the juvenile was convicted of assault with a firearm against a peace officer and sentenced to seven years in the California Youth Authority. Bobb requested that the department reopen the investigation, but the department declined. The deputy has left the department.

"If it turns out that the facts were different than as found in the initial investigation it would have very profound consequences for the criminal justice system as a whole and the juvenile in particular," Bobb said Wednesday.

Abner said the department has reviewed the case thoroughly and determined that reopening the case would produce no useful information.

"The issue is whether the juvenile was in possession of a weapon. What we don't feel can happen by reopening it is having any more information that goes to that fact," Abner said.,1,2149924.story
From the Los Angeles Times
L.A. police panel requires financial disclosure for some officers; union sues
The commission is trying to get out from under a court order for reform. Critics say the new policy is invasive and won't work.
By Joel Rubin
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

December 21, 2007

The Los Angeles Police Commission approved a plan Thursday to require hundreds of anti-gang and narcotics officers to disclose detailed information about their personal finances, triggering an immediate court challenge by the police officers union and a debate at City Hall over whether to overrule the panel.

At issue in the rapidly intensifying dispute is what LAPD Chief William J. Bratton and the five-member commission hope will be one of the final pieces of a broad reform campaign that began after the Rampart corruption scandal and has kept the department under federal oversight since 2000.

Bratton and his civilian bosses are eager to get out of the federal consent decree, which calls for some sort of financial disclosure rule for officers in specialized units who frequently handle cash, drugs and other contraband. The issue has proved to be the most contentious sticking point as union and city officials have struggled for years to strike a compromise between officers' privacy rights and the need to satisfy the decree.

The reform is intended to help supervisors detect an officer who is taking bribes or involved in other illegal conduct. Under its terms, about 600 officers would be required to disclose to department officials any outside income, real estate, stocks, other assets and debts every two years. They would also have to reveal the size of their bank accounts and include any holdings they share with family members or business partners. Officers already assigned to the units would be granted a two-year grace period before having to complete the records.

"It's important that we use every tool available to make absolutely sure that even if it's just one officer who is potentially inclined to go down this path, that we do everything within our . . . authority to make sure that doesn't happen," said Commissioner John Mack. "We cannot forget the Rampart incident."

Indeed, the legacy of the Rampart Division scandal hung heavy over the commission's special meeting Thursday. The call for financial disclosure stemmed in part from admissions by a former anti-gang officer that he and his partner routinely stole thousands of dollars in cash and narcotics from gang members and drug dealers. He said there was little scrutiny of what officers did on the streets and that many officers in his unit took advantage of the lack of supervision by beating and framing suspects.

But Thursday, several police officers, union leaders and elected officials questioned whether the disclosure requirement would do anything to improve on audits, polygraph tests and other safeguards against abuse already in place.

"You would have to look at the ebb and flow of money coming in and going. This is just a snapshot. All they are doing is looking at one day, and with that you have no idea what has happened," said Don Brady, a lieutenant in charge of about 40 narcotics officers, some of whom specialize in tracking the assets of drug dealers.

Critics warned that the commission's move has left rank-and-file officers deeply angry and that hundreds may retire or request transfers out of the specialized units instead of submitting to the new rules.

"It has dampened morale," Brady said of the officers in his units. "They really feel like they're not being trusted."

Civil rights attorney Connie Rice, who has been closely involved in the push to reform the LAPD, echoed the opposition to the policy, saying increased supervision of officers was needed instead.

"The commission is caught between a rock and a hard place on this one. It is trying to do what the court wants it to do, whether it's a good idea or not," she said, referring to U.S. District Judge Gary A. Feess, who oversees the decree. She said police officers "have a right to be angry. They know this won't do any good and is an infringement on their rights."

Although the vote was unanimous, Commissioner Alan Skobin said he sympathized with the officers' concerns.

"I could not look the officers in the eye and tell them that it will do anything to improve the Los Angeles Police Department, except to hope that it will get us beyond the consent decree," he said. "What we're asking them to do and what we're asking their families to do is a very bitter pill. In fact, we're not asking, we're ordering them."

The scope of the policy goes beyond what is demanded of Bratton in the financial interest forms he must file with the city Ethics Commission. But although Bratton's disclosures are public record, the officers' information would be kept confidential. In response to union officials' concerns that the department would not be able to keep the documents safe, the commission refined the policy Thursday to make clear that the information would be kept locked in Bratton's office until it was periodically destroyed.

The commission's disclosure policy puts the officers on par with many federal law enforcement agents. Every five years, for example, agents in the Drug Enforcement Administration must submit to thorough investigations of their finances, said Special Agent Jose Martinez.

Before Thursday's vote, union President Tim Sands urged commissioners to reconsider a compromise that city, federal and union lawyers agreed to last year but that Judge Feess threw out as insufficient.That deal called in part for the department to conduct frequent sting operations and audits of narcotics and anti-gang officers but did not require across-the-board disclosures.

"Go back to this judge and tell him that we had an agreement," Sands said. "We will protect the rights of our officers. . . . We don't want to go down that road. I am asking you, do not move this order forward."

In response to the commission's action, the union filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles County Superior Court seeking an immediate injunction against the disclosures, contending that they violate state laws and collective bargaining rules that protect officers' privacy rights.

Councilman Jack Weiss, who chairs the council's public safety committee said he would push other council members to take the rare step of voting to supersede the commission and assume jurisdiction over the issue. Such a move would require the support of 10 of the 15 council members. If the council takes that action, it can then vote on whether to veto the commission's plan and force the panel to try again.

"I am skeptical" about the policy, Weiss said. "It's not clear that it will assist in detecting bad cops."

Councilman Dennis Zine, a former LAPD sergeant, said he also opposed the commission's decision but would not support Weiss' effort, which he called a "disingenuous" move targeted at winning the police union's endorsement in Weiss' upcoming run for city attorney.

Weiss could not be reached for comment on Zine's assertion. Lisa Hansen, Weiss' chief of staff, said: "This is not about politics. The council will decide this issue on the merits, but clearly it warrants discussion."

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