On June 15, 2001, the city of Los Angeles and the United States Justice Department entered into a consent decree intended to remedy what the Justice Department alleged was a “pattern or practice of unconstitutional or otherwise unlawful conduct” within the Los Angeles Police Department. The Justice Department brought suit against the city as a result of what became known as the “Rampart scandal,” in which officers engaged in all manner of criminal behavior, from drug dealing to perjury to unjustified shootings.
As reprehensible as that behavior was, it is important to note that the scandal involved only a handful of officers at a single police station. Even after investigations by the FBI, the Los Angeles County district attorney, and the LAPD itself, not to mention countless television and newspaper expos√©s, no evidence was produced to suggest this “pattern or practice” extended beyond that small group of officers at that one station. Despite this, the city declined to contest the DOJ allegations at trial and instead entered into the consent decree, which, more than seven years later, continues to govern virtually every facet of the LAPD’s operations.
On December 20, the five members of the civilian police commission, which acts as a board of directors to the LAPD, voted unanimously to implement what has been one of the consent decree’s last remaining sticking points, and in so doing may have placed the department and indeed the city itself in danger.
Paragraph 132 of the consent decree reads as follows:
The LAPD shall require regular and periodic financial disclosures by all LAPD officers and other LAPD employees who routinely handle valuable contraband or cash. The LAPD shall periodically audit a random sample of such disclosures to ensure their accuracy. When necessary, the LAPD shall require the necessary waivers from such officers.
This paragraph has been interpreted to apply to all officers working in narcotics and anti-gang assignments, or about 500 of the LAPD’s 9,500 sworn personnel. The disclosure requirement will apply not only to those officers, but also to their spouses, children, and anyone else with whom they might operate a business or own property. Many, if not most, of these officers have informed their superiors they will accept transfers to other assignments rather than accede to what they see as an overly intrusive and even illegal examination of their personal finances.
The Los Angeles Police Protective League, the labor union representing LAPD officers below the rank of captain, has filed suit in superior court seeking to enjoin the city from implementing this measure. The Protective League’s complaint alleges, among other things, that the disclosure requirement violates the California state constitution and a state law that expressly forbids this type of inquiry into an officer’s finances.
Interestingly, the Los Angeles Times and the Los Angeles Daily News came to opposite conclusions on this issue on their editorial pages. The Times, seldom a friend to the city’s cops, argued against the disclosure requirement (even as it took a backhanded slap at the Protective League), while the other paper endorsed it. “[I]t’s hard to believe 500 cops would jeopardize public safety,” said the Daily News, “if they have nothing to hide.”
This argument ignores reality. The affected police officers do in fact have something to hide, as do the editorial writers at the Daily News and indeed nearly everyone else in the country, namely the personal financial records that might be ill used if not properly safeguarded. The LAPD has at times been famously sloppy with its record keeping. At a press conference announcing their opposition to the financial-disclosure plan, Protective League officers displayed photographs showing hundreds of boxes stacked in the hallways at Parker Center, the LAPD headquarters building. These boxes contained files that are presumably confidential, yet there they were, piled nearly to the ceiling and available for inspection by anyone curious enough to stop and have a peek inside. Supposedly confidential personnel information has on many occasions been leaked to the media, and officers have little faith that their financial records will enjoy any more protection than those boxes stacked in the hallways do today.
But there is another reason those 500 officers are threatening to leave their assignments, one that you may not see discussed anywhere but here. In the seven years they have operated under the consent decree, LAPD officers have seen millions and millions of dollars and countless man-hours devoted to complying with its many provisions. All of that money and all of that time – figures that, if they were to be tabulated and publicized, would have L.A.’s taxpayers taking up torches and pitchforks – went straight down the rathole of bureaucracy spawned by the consent decree.
William Bratton may be the LAPD’s chief, but in reality the department is run by lawyers and auditors. A new computer system demanded by the consent decree was intended to help supervisors monitor their officers, but in reality it is little more than a generator of worthless busywork, keeping those supervisors glued to computers in the stations rather than in the field where they might actually interact with the officers they’re supposed to be monitoring. And far too many honest and hardworking officers have been disciplined for making the smallest and most inconsequential of errors in reports that are now endlessly and ludicrously scrutinized.
Now, at long last, some of those officers have the opportunity to say, “Enough.” Who can blame them?
“Jack Dunphy” is the pseudonym of an officer with the Los Angeles Police Department. The opinions expressed are his own and almost certainly do not reflect those of the LAPD management.