By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
But Hahn's assessment came under sharp criticism even before the Rampart scandal broke. In November 1997, then-LAPD Inspector General Katherine Mader issued a detailed report pointing out Hahn's failure to notify the Police Commission or the department when judges or juries found officers responsible for misconduct. Titled "Management of LAPD High-Risk Officers," the report focused on a case involving four CRASH officers that was settled by the City Attorney's Office for $125,000. The suit alleged that the officers had invaded a birthday party, knocked out the tooth of a 14-year-old boy by hitting him in the face with the butt of a gun and choked the boy's father unconscious.
The I.G. found that "the department had no record(I.G.'s emphasis) of either the lawsuit or the settlement and was not notified regarding the facts, negotiations or settlement by the City Attorney" and that there had been "no corresponding department personnel investigation addressing the conduct of the involved officer. Neither of the officer's supervisors was aware of the . . . lawsuit or settlement."
More broadly, the report continued, "A civil claim alleging misconduct rarely results in the initiation of a department personnel investigation . . . For example, the Internal Affairs Division reviewed 561 civil claims for damages involving department employees which were forwarded to it by the City Attorney's Office and the Department's Legal Affairs Section in 1995. [But] the department did not sustain a single allegation of misconduct against a sworn employee stemming from its review." Nor did Hahn seek to prosecute any cops for misconduct, or to publicly question the department's inaction.
In short, one of the report's conclusions states, "there is no single source within the Department or the City Attorney's Office of names of employees involved in civil litigation related to their department." Or as Mader later put it, "The problem with the settlement of the CRASH officers suit is that they put the same CRASH officers back on the street doing the exact same things they did before."
IN DECEMBER 1998, AT LEAST PARTLY in response to Mader's critique, James Hahn announced the creation of a new "Police Division" within his office, ostensibly as an effort to focus more sharply on the LAPD. Comprising 29 attorneys, a 19-member support staff and 32 LAPD investigators, the new division would "deal with problems early on so that they don't result in litigation," Hahn said at the time. In practice, however, the Police Division quickly succumbed to the institutional pressures it was designed to thwart.
Named to head the new division was Cecil Marr, a widely respected former legal adviser to the L.A. County Sheriff's Department. Last November, stung by a critical court decision, Marr was publicly critical about the way the LAPD deals with records of complaints against its officers -- storing them in eight or more different locations, and often not being able to produce the files when demanded by plaintiff's attorneys. "Quite frankly, many of the judges do not believe us when we tell them there are no files," said Marr. "We've done a series of reports on the police discovery unit, and as a result there's been a tremendous change in how these operations are handled."
But while finally addressing a problem that's been simmering for decades, Marr is otherwise careful not to criticize the department that is, in essence, his partner in court. For example, the City Attorney has never issued comprehensive public reports to the taxpayers, detailing -- in one simple text -- exactly how much the city paid out to settle police-abuse suits, why the same lawsuits continue to recur, or what should be done to reduce them. Attorney Merrick Bobb issues just such reports in his capacity as the county's monitor at the Sheriff's Department. When asked why the City Attorney's Office doesn't do the same, Marr replied, "I don't think it should fall to the City Attorney to do it. We provide the data, yes, the analysis, no."
Hahn spoke in a similar vein in a separate interview: "I am the lawyer for the Police Department. Our lawyers are their [the LAPD's] lawyers, and I certainly don't want to do anything that increases the payouts by the taxpayers, or increases [the city's] liability."
The core of Hahn's Police Division is the Litigation Section, which deals with all police cases except traffic cases. The man in charge of that division is Don Vincent, a former LAPD captain and commanding officer of Internal Affairs before joining the City Attorney's Office. Vincent directs the efforts of 12 attorneys and relies almost exclusively on LAPD investigators. Hahn's critics see that reliance as presenting another glaring conflict. "Those officers are on the LAPD payroll, not the City Attorney's," one deputy city attorney with long experience in the office explained. "That means their allegiance is to the LAPD, their concerns are those of the LAPD, and their marching orders come from the LAPD. The City Attorney can't be truly independent if the LAPD is, in effect, controlling the investigations. With the expansion of the Police Division you now have more LAPD cops reporting back to the department."
The question of conflicting allegiances clearly doesn't trouble Vincent, however. He's the kind of guy to whom the world looks just as it did on Dragnet, where cops never lied and everything worked the way the manual said it was supposed to. When asked if cops investigating cops don't have a tendency to favor their fellow officers, the former LAPD veteran replied, "An assumption like that is made by someone who doubts the integrity of the Police Department in the first place. And in the second place, who doubts the integrity of the attorneys who work this section.