Cops battle LAPD Internet posting
How many cops does it take to make an LAPD bomb squad? Want to know who's on the department's 10-most-wanted list? How can you commend an officer for a job well done, or report police misconduct?
Now you can get your answers - along with hot links to sample a Jack Webb love rap track or clips from an episode of Cops - via the World Wide Web. Simply click on to the LAPD's brand-new Web site, www.lapdonline.org.
Publicly unveiled two weeks ago, this venture marks a real departure for a department not known for operational openness. But spearheaded by Chief Bernard Parks and the site's supervisor and planner, Commander David Kalish, the LAPD is finally taking this leap into the electronic age.
The site has been on the drawing board for several years, says Kalish. The hang-up was always money, but that issue was resolved last year when DARE America agreed to put up a half-million-dollar grant.
It's billed as the largest law-enforcement Web site in the world, offering some 2,200 pages of information concerning the inner workings of this department, including photos and bios of the force's top commanders, as well as area and division captains.
This open posture comes hard, however, for an institution steeped in secrecy. And one significant faction within the department is digging in its heels to avoid the public eye. That faction comprises about half the department's 160 senior lead officers (SLOs), the point persons and public liaisons for the department's community-based policing program, who were to be featured on the Web site with photos, names and work bios.
The issue is being pressed by the Police Protective League, which has filed suit to block publication of SLO mug shots, citing privacy rights and a potential threat to the officers and their families. The case is headed for a court hearing on September 29.
"We've been contacted by over 50 percent of the SLOs, expressing concern that being publicly ID'd would jeopardize their safety and the safety of their families," says league president Dave Hepburn.
"Once their pictures are uploaded, they are up there on the Web forever and could be downloaded and published by individuals who bear a grudge against the department or who want to ridicule or retaliate against specific officers for doing their job or arresting them," he adds. "The department needs to get the permission of SLOs before it institutes this kind of program."
In court papers filed August 11, League general counsel Enrique Hernandez cites a Web site called "Killercop," which reportedly advocated violence against LAPD officers, offering a "$1,000.05 reward to the first person who kills a cop making an illegal arrest . . . and $2,000.10 if it's an LAPD cop." The Web site was shut down after complaints were lodged by the department, but it re-emerges occasionally.
Commander Kalish, head of the department's Community Affairs Group, responds that failure to post the photos contradicts the very public nature of police work, and specifically the job of the senior lead officers. "I hear their concerns, but I just don't see that level of risk," Kalish says. "The public has a need and a right to know about its police force."
Those sentiments were echoed by Commander Scott LaChasse, head of the Criminal Intelligence Group, and Captain William Gartland of the Anti-Terrorist Division. As supervisors of two of the most sensitive divisions in the department, both men have their pictures and bios on the LAPD Web site.
"This is part of working for a public organization," says LaChasse. "Personally I don't find it intrusive. And I just don't see the risk for me or my family."
Adds Kalish, "The main purpose of an SLO is to interact with the public. That's what community policing is all about." SLOs are also paid 5.5 percent over standard Police Officer III pay for their extra responsibilities.
Besides, Kalish points out, there are myriad places where officers' pictures are publicly displayed. On television, L.A. cops are profiled in a show called LAPD: Life on the Beat. "We have officers vying with each other to get on that TV show," says Kalish. SLOs in the San Fernando Valley were featured, complete with pictures, in the Daily News. And individual divisions have posted their own Web sites, which contain officers' pictures.
Some divisions even produced their own trading cards, complete with action photos. "I stole the idea from other police forces that were already doing it, like Huntington Beach," says Rampart Division Sergeant Andrea Grossman, who helped produce a series of cards in 1995. Approximately 294,000 were printed and then issued to some 6,000 officers.
Finally, Kalish notes the 1984 publication of a memorial book by the Los Angeles Police Revolver and Athletic Club. Although participation was voluntary and the book was not publicly distributed, a copy of this retrospective history of the LAPD is available for review in the downtown public library.
The book contains a wealth of information about the department as well as pictures of most of the LAPD's sworn and civilian personnel, broken down by division. Included are head shots of director Dennis Zine, secretary Ted Hunt, director Cliff Ruff and League vice president Gary Fullerton in their respective field assignments.
Of course, not even Kalish was ready to advocate placing the full department roster on the Web site - a step that might allow citizens to identify officers in order to file complaints.
Chief Parks responded to the League suit in typically direct fashion. "We are not a secret police force," Parks said in an interview. "SLOs are the department's liaison with the public. That's their job.
"The department also has a policy that it will not put anyone in a job an officer feels is too dangerous," Parks continued. "So if these officers feel that having their picture on the Web is too dangerous, then they need to step aside so we can get other people into those positions."
Parks' commitment to an open department has not filtered down through the ranks, however. Despite the fact that the telephone numbers for all LAPD divisions are posted on the new Web site, a personnel clerk declined to give out the phone number for the captain of the Anti-Terrorist Division, claiming it was "confidential." Asked for a contact number to reach the secretary for the ATD, the clerk claimed it was also confidential. Questioned as to how the public might reach the ATD, the clerk demurred, stating she was "just following orders."
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