Reforming LAPD From on High

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LOS ANGELES (UPI) — The long-running saga of the “culture” of the Los Angeles Police Department may have reached a turning point this week with the appointment of a panel of lawyers and academics with strong civil rights backgrounds to take another look into the aftermath of the Rampart scandal.

The Blue Ribbon Rampart Review Panel will spend an anticipated nine months reviewing the skullduggery that occurred in the Rampart Division more than two years ago and could be the most effective exercise yet in terms of finding the right moves to make to ensure that effective reforms actually take place.


“This is not about individuals; it’s about systems,” said Connie Rice, the chairwoman of the 10-member panel and an attorney who has represented a number of clients with beefs against the department. “It’s about making sure the culture is getting recalibrated so this kind of widespread, widely known corruption doesn’t get buried or covered up or allowed to fester again.”

Rampart has been examined closely before by official boards, the media and by the LAPD itself. The stated purpose of the panel sworn in by the Police Commission Tuesday is, according to an LAPD statement, to “build upon the work done by other panels.”

“Essentially, the Panel will ascertain the extent to which the department and city have identified and implemented the most important lessons of the Rampart corruption scandal,” the statement continued. “The panel will produce a public document that assesses past Rampart reviews, identifies obstacles to be avoided in the future and determines if sufficient remedies are in place or in progress to prevent the likelihood of a similar event occurring in the future.”

The culture of the LAPD has been the target of criticism before. The 1991 Christopher Commission report urged a major overhaul in the wake of the Rodney King beating, finding that LAPD policies on the use of force were ignored by a number of problem officers and that supervisors weren’t keeping a close enough watch on their troops.

The wide-ranging reforms were largely stalled, however, as the investigators went back to their lives while leaving the implementation of reforms largely up to the LAPD itself.

The Blue Ribbon group is a bit different from the Christopher Commission and earlier Rampart panels in that it has a sizable representation of the other side — the lawyers who have come to learn the ins and outs of how the LAPD operates and where safeguards are needed to remove the temptation for officers to cut corners and violate regulations.

It is safe to assume that any pattern of continuing abuse on the part of the police will come to the attention of Rice and other attorneys who represent the alleged victims.

Also, their report will land on the desk of a willing audience. Mayor James Hahn and Police Chief William Bratton were not tainted by Rampart and will be able to use the document to make the kinds of procedural changes that can outflank the so-called blue wall, an alleged code of silence in the ranks that many critics say allows bad habits to flourish.

The wrongdoing in Rampart apparently percolated for years under the noses of department brass as a few — but still more than enough — individual members of the elite CRASH anti-gang unit used perjured testimony, planted evidence and falsified reports to railroad gang members and anyone else who happened to get in their way.

The machinations came to light only after rogue cop Rafael Perez was busted for pinching cocaine from the station’s evidence locker and offered to sing about his activities and those of his cohorts in exchange for a lighter sentence.

“Rampart CRASH officers developed an independent subculture that embodied a ‘war on gangs’ mentality where the ends justified the means, and they resisted supervision and control and ignored LAPD’s procedure and policies,” said the report from the city’s first Rampart commission in 2000.

“The misconduct of CRASH officers went undetected because the department’s managers ignored warning signs and failed to provide the leadership oversight and supervision necessary to control this specialized unit.”

The results were appalling. CRASH was dissolved citywide and more than 100 criminal cases had to be dismissed because the evidence submitted by the police had to be considered tainted and pretty much worthless. Rampart also set the stage for the eventual departure of Police Chief Bernard Parks.

While Parks was considered a strict disciplinarian, he was also a career LAPD officer who came under criticism for allegedly downplaying Rampart and clashing with the district attorney’s office over his alleged foot-dragging.

Bratton and Hahn took office in the wake of Rampart and don’t have to worry about the heavy lifting of rooting out individual troublemakers or finding themselves in the role of scapegoat. They can now turn their attention to snuffing out the last embers of the Rampart scandal through operational changes that will be recommended by those who have had plenty of experience with the dark side of the LAPD’s “culture.”

Copyright 2003 by United Press International. All rights reserved.