The Sue Me, Sue You LAPD Blues

In my most recent column, I described the exasperation felt by many front-line LAPD officers and detectives at having to work for superiors whose courage, intelligence, integrity, sobriety, or sanity is less than we might wish. But I neglected to inform readers that vexation within the ranks is hardly the only price that’s paid for poor leadership in the department. Sometimes it comes down to real dollars, lots and lots of them.

On May 8, the Los Angeles Times published a story on the multi-million-dollar jury awards some LAPD officers have received as the result of lawsuits based on claims of suffering at the hands of department managers. The story, by Times writer Joel Rubin, told of such cases as these:

Two motorcycle officers were awarded a total of $2 million after alleging their captain and other supervisors retaliated against them when they complained about illegal ticket quotas.

An officer was awarded nearly $4 million after a jury found he had been unjustly fired for having testified against the department in a labor dispute.

The city settled a case for $3.8 million with an officer who alleged he had been harassed and transferred to a less desirable assignment after he reported that a supervisor had used racial epithets and might have been involved in the embezzlement of department funds.

A female officer in the bomb-detection canine unit settled her case for $2.25 million after alleging sexual harassment by coworkers and supervisors. She further alleged retaliation by supervisors after she complained. Another officer in the same unit was awarded $3.6 million by a jury after alleging that he was retaliated against for coming to the female officer’s defense. (He later settled his case for $2.5 million and a promise from the city not to appeal.) Even more remarkable is the $750,000 judgment awarded to one of the accused officers’ supervisors after he himself sued, alleging that his own superiors retaliated against him for the way he handled the sexual harassment complaint.

Thus in this last case the city’s taxpayers will be splashing out lavishly to compensate not only the victim of sexual harassment but also one of the alleged perpetrators. Only through bad management, bad lawyering, or some combination of both can such an outcome occur. No one familiar with the way the LAPD and the city attorney’s office are run can be surprised by this.

The Times followed up on the news story with a May 11 editorial, imploring the LAPD to “get a handle on officer lawsuits.” “This city’s police officers appear to be abnormally litigious,” said the Times, “suing their department at rates far higher than their counterparts in other big cities.”

As I approach the end of my long career with the LAPD, what I find remarkable is not how often officers sue the department, but rather how seldom they do. I am not optimistic that things will change soon.