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Neat and Messy

Dan Koenig keeps an orderly desk. In one high-profile Parker Center posting after another, he’s exuded the image of the consummate LAPD administrator, his reports meticulously presented, his quarters as spotless as a dress uniform on inspection day.

Now the ex-commander, who retired from the LAPD after a 33-year career, brings his meritorious service plaques, his insider’s knowledge and his penchant for order a few floors down to his new job as executive director of the Los Angeles Police Commission, the five-member civilian body that oversees the department.

Inspector general Andre Birotte Jr.’s desk, by contrast, is a shambles. But it soon becomes clear that the former federal prosecutor, promoted by the commission a few weeks after it took on Koenig, is at least as comfortable navigating the seemingly random stacks of paper and assorted files as Koenig is with his clean countertop.

The commission’s two new hires in May complete a revamping of a police-oversight structure that Mayor James Hahn began soon after his 2001 election. With questions about the extent of Rampart police corruption still unanswered and a consent decree for federal monitoring of the LAPD in place, Hahn appointed a commission dominated by experienced City Hall insiders. The panel, headed by attorney and real estate developer Rick Caruso, in turn dropped Bernard Parks as police chief, allowing Hahn to tap William Bratton for the spot.

Koenig takes over for Joe Gunn, a former LAPD officer and cop-show screenwriter with a name, and a visage, tailor-made for television. Birotte was the understudy of Jeffrey Eglash, the second person to fill the job of inspector general, probing allegations of wrongdoing at the LAPD and spearheading the copious audits required by the consent decree. Both are enjoying the honeymoon granted to city officials destined to find themselves, at some point, in the crossfire of controversy. But like most of Hahn’s police commissioners, neither man is a newcomer, and both have established track records of getting along with the chief, the top LAPD brass, the commission and each other to a far greater extent than did their predecessors.

For example, after Eglash stepped down, Caruso noted that then-interim inspector general Birotte “understands the proper role of the inspector general, unlike the last one.” Eglash battled to extract information about officers from Parks, and Parks lashed back about what he called unwarranted interference and a failure to follow proper procedures. Eglash’s relationship with Gunn was cordial, but Gunn clashed repeatedly with Eglash’s predecessor, Katharine Mader, over salary and, most important, access to information.

In the midst of the current honeymoon period, City Council members Jack Weiss and Cindy Miscikowski have asked for a working group to formulate proposals for broader authority — and, perhaps, greater independence — for the inspector general, whose job is to examine allegations of wrongdoing at the LAPD. The two council members are seeking new rules that will allow, or require, the I.G. to report to the council. Some observers are asking for new rules that would bar the commission from blocking an I.G. probe, as it can do now.

Eglash sought such powers but the proposal did not sit well with Caruso, who called the inspector general the “eyes and ears of the commission,” answerable only to that body. Birotte’s approach to being cut loose, somewhat, from the commission’s oversight has been diplomatic.

Koenig, for his part, fiercely defends the concept of a civilian body overseeing the LAPD. He sees the inspector general as being very much a commission staff position. He notes that he and Birotte will necessarily find themselves on the opposite sides of some issues but insists that clashes are unnecessary — and unlikely. “Both Andre Birotte and I are very independent people, but very respectful of each other’s opinion,” Koenig said.

The good feelings and camaraderie are a blessing to the commission and department officials — but that does not necessarily mean they are a good thing.

One City Hall insider reacted to Koenig’s appointment with alarm.

“Don’t expect any revolution,” he said. “He’s there to protect the interests of the traditionalists in Parker Center. And as for the new I.G., he has to declare his independence. From everybody. At a time when the culture is supposed to be changing, these guys aren’t getting it.”

USC law professor Erwin Chemerinsky agreed. Chemerinsky authored a study highly critical of the LAPD’s Rampart Board of Inquiry report — authored by Koenig — and has long taken exception to the model of the inspector general as the “eyes and ears” of the Police Commission. He said that was not what the Christopher Commission had in mind over a decade ago when it called for an inspector general as part of a response to the Rodney King beating.

 

“The inspector general should be truly independent,” Chemerinsky said. “The two I.G.s we have had so far were terrific, but both were largely unsuccessful in what they were trying to accomplish because there was too much control from the commission and its staff.”

Koenig, 54, grew up in the San Fernando Valley. He was a Navy veteran with two tours of duty in Vietnam when he married his best friend’s sister, then enrolled in the Police Academy. He professed that police work was never a goal and that he was somewhat surprised to find himself in an LAPD uniform after being raised by a family of firefighters. His grandfather, an Irish immigrant, was a fireman in Boston, and his father, two brothers, three uncles and four cousins were Los Angeles firefighters.

“I became a cop, and it was perfect for me,” he said.

Koenig steadily moved up the LAPD ranks. He launched the anti-drug DARE program in the 1980s. Later, his name became well known to the public when, as commanding officer of the detective-support division, he wrote a report on allegations by Detective Mark Fuhrman, made in the course of the O.J. Simpson trial, about police brutality throughout the department. Koenig determined Fuhrman was lying or exaggerating in most instances but called for overhauling the department’s handling of personnel complaints and discipline.

Several years later, Officer Rafael Perez was caught stealing cocaine from an evidence locker and as part of a plea bargain named officers from the Rampart Division who he said faked evidence and lied on the stand to secure convictions of suspects, some of whom were innocent. This time Koenig was called upon to write a report on the management failures that allowed the scandal to take place. The Board of Inquiry report cited middle-management failures and won praise from Parks, but was dismissed by police critics who labeled it a whitewash.

A follow-up report detailing exactly who did what also was assigned to Koenig. It was never completed. Bratton said earlier this year that he wants the study done to get closure on Rampart.

Koenig was considered a top contender for the chief’s job when the commission denied Parks a second term, but he didn’t want it. He praised Bratton as being “without question one of the, if not the, premier law-enforcement executives certainly in the United States but probably in the modern world.” But he said it is up to the commission to assert itself as the true head of the department.

“Not figuratively,” Koenig said of the ‰ panel that he now directs as top staffer. “Not in name only, but as the true head of the Los Angeles Police Department.” The other step to shaking off federal supervision under the consent decree, he said, is preparing the inspector general to assume the role of a monitor when federal monitor Michael Cherkasky leaves.

Birotte, 37, was born in New Jersey to immigrants from Haiti (he now lives, like Koenig, in the San Fernando Valley).

His father left the Caribbean nation to attend medical school in Mexico before coming to the U.S. and becoming an orthopedic surgeon. But his son wanted to be an attorney. He graduated from Tufts University in Massachusetts, then picked up a brochure for the Pepperdine University law school in Malibu. The photos seemed too good to be true, so he called the dean, who invited him to come take a look. He remembers driving his rented Ford Festiva up Pacific Coast Highway and telling himself, “This school is going to have to be really bad for me not to come here.”

After graduation he became a Los Angeles deputy public defender, then moved to the U.S. Attorney’s Office where he worked alongside Jeffrey Eglash and Jack Weiss. He later moved to a private firm, but called up Eglash when he learned there was an opening in the Inspector General’s Office.

He said the Inspector General’s Office is in many ways a different place than it was under either of his predecessors.

“I think there’s been somewhat of a paradigm shift in how the office is viewed,” Birotte said, “in the sense that in a lot of ways Kathy Mader and Jeffrey Eglash paved the way, made my job easier. They fought the fight that at least right now I don’t need to fight. And more importantly, I’ve been here for the last two years. I know a lot of the players in the command staff, who were not in the command staff when I first met them.”

Without naming names, Birotte also suggests that some of the past conflicts were driven more by personality than by substantive issues. He said the example set by the Sheriff’s Department and the Office of Independent Review shows that the relationship can work without conflict.

 

“I know there was some tension between Jeff and Parks,” Birotte said. “You’d have to be living under a rock not to realize that. I don’t have that tension with Chief Bratton. Call it a honeymoon period, call it just luck. His position is, look, I’m new to this city, I have no reason to be confrontational with the Inspector General’s Office, it’s your job to call it like you see it. His expectation is that I will. We’ve had this conversation. We may agree to disagree, but it’s never personal. We’re both just doing > our jobs.”


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