By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By Dennis Romero
Photo by Ted Soqui
As soon-to-be-ex–LAPD Inspector General Katherine Mader reads her prepared statement to the members of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee, Herbert Boeckmann laughs loudly. He’s sitting in the audience, behind Mader, enjoying a joke with a bent, palsied man in a wheelchair.
Boeckmann, a gray-haired, born-again Valley businessman whose enormous bulk is encased in a well-tailored blue suit, was a long-serving police commissioner under former Mayor Tom Bradley, before being reappointed to the commission by Mayor Richard Riordan. Boeckmann has already spoken at the Monday hearing; now it’s the inspector general’s turn.
But as Mader continues reciting ways in which the office of inspector general can be strengthened, Boeckmann appears deliberately, even contemptuously, oblivious to her. It seems strange — Mader is, after all, the eyes and ears for the commission in tracking the vast and unruly LAPD — but at the same time understandable.
This week’s hearing follows hard on the commission’s clumsy attempt last month to limit Mader’s power to investigate the LAPD — and Mader’s subsequent resignation — had, after all, created a nasty, name-calling political furor. And today’s hearing is payback: the chance for the City Council to issue a political rebuke to Boeckmann, the other commissioners and the mayor.
Yet anyone seated in the cavernous City Hall hearing room who is unfamiliar with the story would be hard-put to detect any conflict, any discord, as speaker after speaker — from the council members present, to former chief counsels for the Christopher Commission — sounds as if he or she disagrees only on the minor details of how much independence the inspector general should have.
It is only when Mader steps to the microphone, 90 minutes into the meeting, that the day’s sole drama takes place.
A former prosecutor for the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office, who specialized in the prosecution of brutal cops, Mader is normally a vibrant, self-assured woman. Today, however, she appears pale, and her voice has a slight quaver to it, as if — at this, her big moment — she can’t quite put out of her mind the array of forces lined up against her. They include the mayor, his appointed Police Commission, her immediate boss (the commission’s executive director, Joe Gunn) and the entire command staff of the LAPD, as personified by its chief, the formidable Bernard Parks — who, like his predecessors, Bill Parker, Ed Davis and Daryl Gates, views any outside interference in the running of his department as the pope might view a lecture on doctrinal purity from Jerry Falwell.
Mader, in addition, is acutely aware of what is at stake, which is not just her reputation, but the future of open, meaningful civilian oversight of the LAPD. Nevertheless, she forges on, putting a human face on the day’s special hearing as she vividly details the kinds of intimidation and retaliation experienced by individual LAPD officers who lodged complaints, or just came to speak with her.
But the issue of retaliation is really a subplot in the controversy between Mader and the commission. What’s really at stake is control and power.
The genesis of this face-off goes back almost half a century to 1950, when the founding father of the modern LAPD, Chief William H. Parker, established the tradition of powerful chiefs of police running the department as they saw fit. No interference was tolerated, most especially from the Police Commission, whose job then — as it is today — was to oversee the department and set its policy.
It was impossible, of course, for the commissioners to do so without adequate information, which they rarely received. What they did get was presented by the chief or his command staff in such an opaque manner that former Police Commission President Stephen Reinhardt once referred to the presenters as the "masters of non-disclosure." And with good reason.
For the four decades between 1950 and 1992, it proved nearly impossible for the five faceless, part-time citizen amateurs on the Police Commission to penetrate the byzantine workings of the LAPD, evaluate the department’s self-generated and often self-serving statistics and reports, deal with the evasiveness of the top commanders, or acquire even a modicum of insight. As a result, no matter who was appointed and what his or her intentions, commission after commission proved weak and ineffectual.
So, following Rodney King’s beating in 1991, the Christopher Commission, a blue-ribbon panel appointed by the mayor to investigate the LAPD, issued as one of its key reforms the creation of an Office of Inspector General, which was then approved by voters in 1995. The inspector general’s mission was to cut through the deliberate fog shrouding the LAPD’s inner workings, to be the trained, full-time watchdog for the civilian commission — and by extension, the public. The governing of the LAPD by a small, closed group of insiders was to end. And the department was to be overseen by a strengthened commission with an enlarged staff — and an inspector general.
With the Office of the Inspector General deployed to gather information, the commission could then do what was best for the department andthe public, and be informed enough to recognize when those two constituencies were in conflict.