The Pace of Reform

Photo by Ted Soqui

As soon-to-be-ex–LAPD Inspector General Katherine Mader reads her prepared statement to the members of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee, Herbert Boeckmann laughs loudly. He’s sitting in the audience, behind Mader, enjoying a joke with a bent, palsied man in a wheelchair.

Boeckmann, a gray-haired, born-again Valley businessman whose enormous bulk is encased in a well-tailored blue suit, was a long-serving police commissioner under former Mayor Tom Bradley, before being reappointed to the commission by Mayor Richard Riordan. Boeckmann has already spoken at the Monday hearing; now it’s the inspector general’s turn.

But as Mader continues reciting ways in which the office of inspector general can be strengthened, Boeckmann appears deliberately, even contemptuously, oblivious to her. It seems strange — Mader is, after all, the eyes and ears for the commission in tracking the vast and unruly LAPD — but at the same time understandable.

This week’s hearing follows hard on the commission’s clumsy attempt last month to limit Mader’s power to investigate the LAPD — and Mader’s subsequent resignation — had, after all, created a nasty, name-calling political furor. And today’s hearing is payback: the chance for the City Council to issue a political rebuke to Boeckmann, the other commissioners and the mayor.

Yet anyone seated in the cavernous City Hall hearing room who is unfamiliar with the story would be hard-put to detect any conflict, any discord, as speaker after speaker — from the council members present, to former chief counsels for the Christopher Commission — sounds as if he or she disagrees only on the minor details of how much independence the inspector general should have.

It is only when Mader steps to the microphone, 90 minutes into the meeting, that the day’s sole drama takes place.

A former prosecutor for the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office, who specialized in the prosecution of brutal cops, Mader is normally a vibrant, self-assured woman. Today, however, she appears pale, and her voice has a slight quaver to it, as if — at this, her big moment — she can’t quite put out of her mind the array of forces lined up against her. They include the mayor, his appointed Police Commission, her immediate boss (the commission’s executive director, Joe Gunn) and the entire command staff of the LAPD, as personified by its chief, the formidable Bernard Parks — who, like his predecessors, Bill Parker, Ed Davis and Daryl Gates, views any outside interference in the running of his department as the pope might view a lecture on doctrinal purity from Jerry Falwell.

Mader, in addition, is acutely aware of what is at stake, which is not just her reputation, but the future of open, meaningful civilian oversight of the LAPD. Nevertheless, she forges on, putting a human face on the day’s special hearing as she vividly details the kinds of intimidation and retaliation experienced by individual LAPD officers who lodged complaints, or just came to speak with her.

But the issue of retaliation is really a subplot in the controversy between Mader and the commission. What’s really at stake is control and power.

The genesis of this face-off goes back almost half a century to 1950, when the founding father of the modern LAPD, Chief William H. Parker, established the tradition of powerful chiefs of police running the department as they saw fit. No interference was tolerated, most especially from the Police Commission, whose job then — as it is today — was to oversee the department and set its policy.

It was impossible, of course, for the commissioners to do so without adequate information, which they rarely received. What they did get was presented by the chief or his command staff in such an opaque manner that former Police Commission President Stephen Reinhardt once referred to the presenters as the "masters of non-disclosure." And with good reason.

For the four decades between 1950 and 1992, it proved nearly impossible for the five faceless, part-time citizen amateurs on the Police Commission to penetrate the byzantine workings of the LAPD, evaluate the department’s self-generated and often self-serving statistics and reports, deal with the evasiveness of the top commanders, or acquire even a modicum of insight. As a result, no matter who was appointed and what his or her intentions, commission after commission proved weak and ineffectual.

So, following Rodney King’s beating in 1991, the Christopher Commission, a blue-ribbon panel appointed by the mayor to investigate the LAPD, issued as one of its key reforms the creation of an Office of Inspector General, which was then approved by voters in 1995. The inspector general’s mission was to cut through the deliberate fog shrouding the LAPD’s inner workings, to be the trained, full-time watchdog for the civilian commission — and by extension, the public. The governing of the LAPD by a small, closed group of insiders was to end. And the department was to be overseen by a strengthened commission with an enlarged staff — and an inspector general.


With the Office of the Inspector General deployed to gather information, the commission could then do what was best for the department and the public, and be informed enough to recognize when those two constituencies were in conflict.

The position of inspector general was not a minefield from the outset. The commission was then headed by the highly respected, independent-minded Raymond Fisher (now the number-three man in Clinton’s Justice Department), and Mader received the commission’s full support.

It was Willie Williams’ final year as chief, and the mayor, the commission and much of the LAPD leadership (most especially including Bernard Parks) were of one mind: Williams had to go. And Mader helped push him on his way.

In January 1997, when Williams declared he was running for reappointment as chief, he also announced that civilian complaints against the department had "declined by 43 percent" over the course of his five-year tenure. Almost immediately, his claim was publicly disputed by Mader, who pointed out various ways in which complaints were being hidden, and how Williams’ stats were, therefore, meaningless. Another nail had been placed in Williams’ coffin, and Mader had vividly demonstrated one of the real values of the new Inspector General’s Office.

Early on in Bernard Parks’ administration, Mader showed that, as far as she was concerned, nothing had changed. There might be a new chief, but the Inspector General’s Office remained on the job, ready to make the same kind of trouble in the interests of keeping things honest.

But with Bernard Parks, Mader was dealing with an entirely different situation. Ray Fisher was gone from the Police Commission. Parks had been enthusiastically chosen by a mayor who had staked his whole political legacy on Parks’ ability to rebuild the LAPD. And the commission presidency had fallen to an insecure and hyper-sensitive attorney Edith Perez, a virtual newcomer to the circles of power downtown.

Besides her inexperience, Perez seemed enamored of Parks. Thus, when Parks allegedly violated department policy by showing favoritism to a suspended officer, and Mader publicly blew the whistle, she was promptly and publicly chastised and overruled by Perez.

Relations between Perez and Mader were never the same. The commission, and particularly Perez (who, last week, in a delicious subplot, was discovered by L.A. Times reporter Matt Lait to be the source of anonymous mailings containing letters and press clippings condemning Mader and praising Perez and the commission), seemed determined that Parks would not be embarrassed again.

Mader’s independent voice was effectively stifled by a commission that could fire her at any time; Perez and the other commissioners took to dealing with Parks behind closed doors — in apparent violation of the state’s Brown Act, which mandates open public meetings by government agencies, except in exceptional circumstances.

Events came to a head when former LAPD commander and assistant deputy mayor on police affairs — the smooth Joe Gunn — was appointed as the commission’s executive director and, nominally, Mader’s boss. The conspiracy-minded saw the move as the closing of the circle, with Mader in the middle, a lamb ready for slaughter. Others offered more benign accounts of Gunn’s selection. In any case, it was clear that Mader was now entirely surrounded by enemies.

The end came for Mader when Perez decided — without bothering to hold public hearings — to sharply restrict the range and autonomy of the Inspector General’s Office. In a memo to Chief Parks (whose input was reportedly sought prior to the memo being sent), Perez declared that henceforth Inspector General Mader would be limited to "adjudicated complaints" — that is, to those already investigated, ruled on and disposed of by the department before coming to her desk. Mader, in short, was to be completely out of the investigative and interpretive loop, a move that would virtually gut strong, meaningful civilian oversight and public accountability for the LAPD.

By giving away the new, charter-mandated power of the commission to monitor the LAPD’s controversial disciplinary system, the commission was giving away the opportunity to learn what was occurring within the department from an independent voice. In its place, they were now willing to simply take the chief’s word for it — an attitude that led to the disaster of Rodney King and the riots of 1992.

The reason for the giveaway, it now seems obvious, was because Mader refused to play team ball — a management concept very dear to the heart of Mayor Riordan. Almost as dear was the notion of the LAPD rising, under his nurturing tenure, like a phoenix from the ashes. What a legacy — for the mayor, Parks and Perez — it would be to have restored the LAPD’s sacrosanct image.


By the end of Monday’s hearing, it was clear that while the council might share that vision of the LAPD, they did not concur in the commission’s tactics. Instead, consensus emerged that the Inspector General’s Office had to be strengthened. And within the next month, according to City Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg, the City Council will do exactly that, through the passage of city ordinances. "Ninety-eight percent of it," said Goldberg, "will be done soon by the council."

That same day, the Elected Los Angeles Charter Reform Commission, which is reworking the city’s governing charter, also issued a strong, unequivocal statement of its goal of "revising the City Charter to ensure that the Office of Inspector General has sufficient independence to ensure adequate investigations and accountability within the police department."

So, one way or another, the Inspector General’s Office will be reinforced, and have its powers clearly delineated. The only question remaining is whether the commission, working with Parks, will follow the ordinances or a new charter provision — whether, in short, there’s the political will to seriously monitor the LAPD, risk some political setbacks, and take on a chief of police who’s increasingly showing himself to be in the autocratic tradition of the LAPD chiefs of the past.

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