By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
As an example of that "mediocrity," Commander Koenig pointed out that officers routinely arrested suspects and booked them without the required approvals from supervisors. "Those systems were being bypassed throughout the department," Koenig said. "It was in bypassing those systems that allowed Perez to make false police reports."
An alternative critique might suggest that the problem at Rampart stemmed from the LAPD's paramilitary approach to crime and the community, and that cops who are willing to flout civil rights can always doctor the paperwork to cover up their conduct. But Parks was committed to the LAPD model, and could never bring himself to see Rampart as more than an isolated aberration.
Parks is gone now, but his views live on with managers like Commander Koenig, who personally authored the Board of Inquiry. To Koenig, it all boils down to "systems . . . you have to have checks and balances that dramatically reduce the opportunity" for officer misconduct. Those systems are being administered by managers throughout the department, and reviewed by the 30 investigators and other staff working under inspector general Eglash.
The federal consent decree has only increased the flow of raw data already swamping the Office of the Inspector General. "We've become auditors in a large sense," Eglash said in an interview. "We have a large number of audits to do, and we have an even larger number of audits that the department is supposed to do, and that we then review."
And while Eglash maintains that "the potential is there" for audits to be a useful reform measure, he worries about a "checklist mentality" among department managers. "Part of what we see at the LAPD is they want to be able to check off the boxes and say they accomplished these things, but they haven't really taken them to heart and changed the way they go about doing business."
Much of numbers-crunching now being conducted by Eglash could be replaced by a single computer system that could integrate, collate and cross-reference the complaints and other records compiled by the more than 9,000 sworn officers of the LAPD. That computer system was called for by the Christopher Commission a decade ago, but installation remains years away. In the meantime, Eglash and his staff plumb officer performance from the outside in.
Partly as a consequence, the inspector general has less and less time to focus on individual incidents, complaints and officers, particularly complaints of excessive force and false arrest. Those cases, his surveys suggest, are as troublesome as ever. "On the one hand, when you look at the department's complaints, they sustain (or find against an officer) 14 or 15 percent, which is higher than a lot of other jurisdictions," Eglash said. "But when you look at these core Fourth Amendment issues, of use-of-force and seizures and detentions, they're down around 1 or 2 percent."
IF THE CURRENT RAMPART-DRIVEN REform effort looks incremental and hopelessly bureaucratic, it fares even worse in comparison with the crucial structural changes mandated by the Christopher Commission 10 years ago, after the Rodney King riots.
Then, against the backdrop of the city's still-smoking skyline, hard-line Chief Daryl Gates was forced from office, a new, independent inspector general was appointed, and the department's recruitment and training policies were thoroughly revamped. Yet none of those reforms prevented the Rampart scandal. Is there reason to believe the consent decree will fare any better?
Commission president Caruso answers with a determined optimism. "There's some old-school thinking here, and there's a lot of new-school thinking — much more concerned about the quality of life in the city, much more sensitive to how they do their job," Caruso said. "And the new-school thinking is the one that needs to prevail, and that will prevail."
Commander Koenig said change comes in stages, and will only volunteer that "It's not done yet." In his view, former Chief Willie Williams "brought a sense of police-community partnership back to the organization," while Chief Parks "brought a sense of discipline; the next chief's challenge will be to marry those two things into some sort of a cohesive cultural shift."
That's a lot to ask, certainly, and still would leave untouched some of the primary failings of the criminal justice system exposed by the Rampart scandal. In his study for the police union, Chemerinsky challenged judges in criminal trials to speak out when officers provide blatantly false testimony in court. Specifically, he called for changes to the Code of Judicial Ethics to require that officers who lie on the stand be reported.
That might seem reasonable — after all, perjury by any witness can be ruled contempt of court — but it provoked sharp reaction from Judge Larry Fidler, who handled most of the Rampart cases at L.A. Superior Court. In a rare public response to Chemerinsky's report, Fidler dismissed the notion that jurists could serve as a meaningful curb to false testimony. "Very rarely is it clearly obvious that someone is lying," he said.
Alternate public defender Gary Wigodsky calls local prosecutors to account on the same score. "What did we learn from Rampart?" Wigodsky asked. "We didn't learn that some cops are corrupt. We already knew that. We learned that information on corruption is suppressed — by the district attorney, by the city attorney, by the police agencies."
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