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The 1998 Rampart Scandal Continues to Reverberate in the LAPD

The final version of these rules allowed for a two-year grace period for officers already assigned to these units, with only those newly assigned required to disclose their finances. But that two-year grace period is now coming to an end, and LAPD managers are discovering to their great discomfort just how unpalatable these new rules are to street cops. Rather than disclose their personal financial data (and those of spouses or anyone else with whom an officer might own an asset), many officers are choosing to accept reassignment to patrol or other duties in which these new rules do not apply. The result has been the complete shutdown of the gang units in some areas, and the understaffing of the units at every police station in the city.

For example, at Southeast Division, which patrols Watts and nearby areas of South Central L.A., and where 46 murders were reported last year, the gang unit was shut down in January. At the adjacent 77th Street Division (39 murders in 2010), the gang unit will cease to operate in February. Department managers lamely attempt to claim that this will not affect public safety in Los Angeles, as the officers and their accumulated expertise will remain at the same stations. “The community should not be concerned,” said Assistant Chief Earl Paysinger. “We haven't backed away from our gang enforcement posture.”

To put it as politely as I can, this is what you might find scattered in a cow pasture after the cows have left. The gang officers remained at their same stations back in 1998, too, but that didn’t prevent the city’s gang members from taking advantage of the diminished enforcement posture, with the result being a significant rise in bloodshed. If the earlier decline in murders had persisted in those years, or even if the rate had but remained constant, hundreds of murder victims in Los Angeles would have been spared.

To be fair, the information required on the financial disclosure paperwork is anything but intrusive. It asks only for the most general details on an officer’s assets and liabilities. Where the trouble arises is in the random audits demanded by the consent decree, at which officers will be required to provide much more detailed information. Despite the repeated assurances of Chief Charlie Beck that the information will be safeguarded against unauthorized disclosure, many officers simply do not trust the department to keep their personal information confidential. Added to this is the fact that no living soul believes these measures will have even the slightest deterrent effect on corruption, so officers have little incentive to take the risk of having their financial information fall into the wrong hands, however minimal that risk might be.

But there is another reason officers are refusing to cooperate with the financial disclosure rules. For more than nine years, LAPD officers watched helplessly as millions of dollars and countless hours of their time were poured down the bureaucratic rathole that was the consent decree. For all that time they had no choice but to follow every one of its byzantine provisions. But now gang officers have a choice, and many of them are choosing to say no.  (For an examination of another corrosive remnant of the LAPD’s consent decree, see Heather Mac Donald’s “Targeting the Police” in the Jan. 31 issue of the Weekly Standard.)

I credit the authors of the consent decree with good intentions in their desire to avert corruption in the Los Angeles Police Department. But as is most often the case when the federal government inserts itself where it has no business, the best of intentions can yield disastrous results. The outcome here is as predictable as the tides: More people in Los Angeles will be murdered this year than last. And what a shame that will be.