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LAPD Audit: Bratton's fiscal mess 

New chief Charlie Beck releases a report showing broad mismanagement

Wednesday, Dec 16 2009
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The city may not be as safe as the 1950s like Bill Bratton often boasted, but apparently the bookkeeping by the Los Angeles Police Department is “stuck” in that decade, and a new and embarrassing audit is roiling City Hall — by explaining how bad things really are.

When former City Controller Laura Chick released her March 2007 audit of LAPD’s Fiscal Operations Division revealing “an LAPD whose business functions are stuck in the 1950s,” Bratton stood with her at a press conference and announced that Chick’s audit would “serve as a useful management tool for me and my staff.”

In the audit, the controller found that LAPD’s Fiscal Operations Division “must be completely overhauled in organizational structure, technology, internal control and accountability.” Chick made, as she termed it, “a whopping 52 recommendations.”

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Then, the cameras departed, and while some improvements were attempted, little changed.

Just six weeks after Bratton’s departure, a surprisingly negative audit of his fiscal management of LAPD has been released by Chief Charlie Beck. The internal audit was completed in August but withheld until after Bratton made a carefully choreographed exit to a private-sector job in New York.

The findings by the LAPD’s Internal Audits and Inspections Division add a serious tarnish to the Bratton afterglow, with troubling details — including the fact that there are missing receipts for $2.6 million in LAPD purchases.

Moreover, the audit, a sampling of purchases rather than an entire study, shows Bratton repeatedly failed to require his underlings to seek written competitive bids. Written bids were not obtained on 84 percent of LAPD purchases made throughout the 2007-2008 fiscal year. Police Commissioner Alan Skobin tells L.A. Weekly that instead, the purchases in question apparently were made after LAPD “telephonically” obtained bids over the phone, and made no written records.

With Villaraigosa and many top city leaders out of the country or state, nobody could explain who was responsible for the lengthy, roughly two-month delay in releasing the audit.

Beck’s cover letter, attached to the audit, refers calls to Police Administrator Gerald Chaleff — whose secretary, in turn, says Chaleff is on vacation. Skobin says, in Bratton’s defense, “The fact is that he cared enough to do the audit and let the chips fall where they may. I hope people don’t try to use this as a way to take away from the many contributions he has made to the LAPD.”

But former controller Chick, in an e-mail to the Weekly, was almost brutal, saying, “One of the reasons it’s so expensive” to run LAPD, “$1.3 billion and rising, is because no one is paying attention to how the business operations of this department are run.”

KNX radio’s Charles Feldman reported that after the internal audit was finished in August, the findings underwent a two-month “comment period,” presumably among management at LAPD. That timing means Bratton was chief when the comment period was completed in September or early October. After that, a long delay kept the audit under wraps until after Beck, who took command in early November, became chief.

Attorney Andrea Ordin, who resigned from the Los Angeles Police Commission in recent days to take the influential job as chief counsel for Los Angeles County, conceded that certain aspects of it were “disturbing.”

The delay in the audit’s release is tinged with irony. Shortly before leaving, Bratton lashed out at the Police Commission and the city’s political culture, telling KPCC radio that not enough disagreements are aired publicly, creating a system of backstabbing among the city’s power players downtown.

While his experience as chief in Boston’s and New York’s political cultures was “much more in your face, bloody your nose and then go out and have a drink,” by contrast, he said, Los Angeles City Hall is weighted down by too much backroom intrigue.

He reserved particular criticism for the five-member Villaraigosa-appointed Police Commission, whose job is to monitor the department and chief. Bratton slammed the Police Commission as “an unnecessary layer of government once again, in that back in New York, I reported directly to the mayor. I was the police commissioner, I was the chief of police all in one. ... I did not have the redundancy or the extra layer of government and oversight” as chief of New York City.

Now, it is unclear whether the five-member commission had any idea how poorly the fiscal house was being kept by Bratton in the year after Chick’s audit. Skobin says he was “surprised that these issues existed, because they were basic business principles that should be easy to follow.”

Although Beck avoided going into details about the audit after the story broke on Monday, he publicly stated that some of his personnel changes were undertaken with the fiscal-management problems in mind, and said, “We’re going to have to do better.”

Beck has made several personnel changes including demoting Assistant Chief Sharon Papa, who for years ran the Support Services Bureau. Beck’s demotion of Papa was steep — down two levels, to mere commander — and widely seen as a message about Beck’s displeasure with Papa. Her duties were given to Deputy Chief Sandy Jo MacArthur, who got the new title of Assistant Chief of Administrative Services.

Beck also shifted several units away from popular Assistant Chief Earl Paysinger, who was kept in charge of the Office of Operations but lost a significant chunk of his domain to the new Assistant Chief Michel Moore — known as a tough manager with a close eye on his staff and budgets.

If Bratton was wasting money, Beck may have a chance to reduce the waste, perhaps squeezing out enough savings to blunt the fiscal blows facing the LAPD.

On Tuesday, the political appointees on the Police Commission formally called for a new “manual” and new training to be conducted to educate the LAPD on fiscally prudent practices. The commissioners noted in a press release, “We cannot go to the public asking for more money to increase the size of the Department if we are not efficient with our spending.”

Recently, the rank-and-file officers accepted a new contract with no raises for two years and steep cuts in overtime pay, just weeks after Bratton and the City Council got into a final, and ugly, budget feud. In October, City Council members including Paul Koretz, Bernard Parks and Greig Smith raised the idea of making a major raid on LAPD’s budget after the council had failed for months to meet a looming citywide deficit.

Bratton was furious, telling a group of reporters, “Once again the political leadership of this city has told a lie. ... They told the public we were going to grow this department with your tax dollars. If they’re going to shrink the department, well, they better give those tax dollars back.” Barking back at Bratton, Councilman Smith publicly invited him to get out of town — sending radio talk shows into overdrive about the City Hall antics.

For West Los Angeles Neighborhood Council Chair Jay Handal, who also sits on a citywide neighborhood-council budget-advisory committee that reports to Villaraigosa, the audit showing widespread failure by LAPD to seek written bids or keep receipts is “symptomatic of a broken city.” 

Handal says he has repeatedly told the advisory committee to the mayor, “It’s great to know where we have to make cuts and have furloughs, but we also need to know where there’s financial waste so we don’t have to make those cuts and furloughs. We’re not doing a good job of finding where the waste is.”

It’s clear that the Los Angeles City Council isn’t holding the big departments it oversees “financially accountable,” Handal says, and that Villaraigosa isn’t leaning on the department heads the mayor hires. “In Bratton’s case,” says Handal, once Villaraigosa doesn’t demand accountability, “who’s going to put his feet to the fire?”

Referring to the mayor’s weeklong trip to the climate summit in Denmark, Handal says, “The mayor is spending a lot of time talking about greenhouse gases and running over to Copenhagen, and the city is going broke. ... Someone really needs to take control of the operation of the city.”

Reach the writers at cpelisek@laweekly.com and pmcdonald@laweekly.com.

 

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