It seems clear by now that Rafael Perez is no Frank Serpico. Both were police officers who blew the whistle on widespread corruption in their respective police departments — Perez in L.A. and Serpico in New York — but the parallels end right there.
The differences were underscored Monday when Perez appeared in federal court to hear his latest prison sentence read into the record. Unlike Serpico, Perez will have no movie commemorating his exploits — at least, none that profits Perez; that was spelled out as part of the deal. Unlike Serpico, a clean cop who resisted NYPD corruption and went public in 1969, Perez will do two jail terms for crimes to which he confessed. And unlike Serpico’s disclosures, which sparked housecleaning in the NYPD, Perez‘s allegations of widespread officer misconduct have been all but glossed over by authorities in Los Angeles.
True, former Police Chief Bernard Parks shut down the CRASH gang squads, but they were quickly replaced with new gang units. And while a dozen officers quit or were fired, most who fought charges based on Perez’s allegations kept their jobs and their seniority.
Yet there has been ample corroboration for Perez‘s allegations of widespread misconduct at Rampart. Former Rampart officers Ruben Palomares and William Ferguson, for example, were both charged with crimes after leaving the division, and each is suspected of personal crime sprees while in uniform. And scores of other allegations have been made in civil lawsuits.
So the question remains: Whatever happened to the Rampart scandal?
Perez must bear part of the blame for the ephemeral nature of the scandal he wrought. In his extensive interviews with investigators from the LAPD and the county district attorney, Perez was often vague, sometimes guessing at the names of officers he accused and other times obviously covering up for those closest to him.
But if Perez has proved a flawed informant, he can share the blame for his charges failing to stick. The fact is, law-enforcement officials of every stripe have done their best to keep a lid on Rampart, each for their own reasons.
District Attorney Steve Cooley ran for office on a platform of “cleaning up Rampart,” but soon pulled the plug on his own Rampart task force. To date, Cooley’s office has filed just one criminal case against a single CRASH officer. Chief Parks worked from the outset to restrict disclosures by his own task force, withholding findings even from the district attorney. And the LAPD has yet to produce the report that Parks promised detailing those findings. Likewise, the City Attorney‘s Office has fought in court to keep investigative records secret.
Often in such situations the U.S. attorney has the independence to prosecute where local authorities are cowed, but not this time. Federal officials spent two years touting their own Rampart investigation, but in the end filed indictments against only Perez and his former partner.
It may be true that Perez is no Frank Serpico. But considering the insipid nature of the official response in Los Angeles, you have to wonder: If Serpico had worked at the LAPD, would we even know his name?
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