Thin Blue Line Wrapped in Red Tape at LAPD

Police work is often a stressful endeavor, but not for the reasons you might think. Yes, there is the risk of being shot, stabbed, or clubbed in the head, but most cops will tell you that the threat to life and limb is not, in fact, the most stressful aspect of working the streets. Rather, what really gets the bile flowing in a cop's gut is the nonsense he must routinely endure, nonsense that rains down upon him in torrents from incompetent superiors and craven politicians. Sometimes adding to the frustration are media types who, either out of ignorance or bias, present an inaccurate picture of law enforcement to their audiences. Here in Los Angeles, recent events have produced some vivid examples of this, sending many cops to their medicine cabinets in search of relief. To wit:

  • Two weeks ago, the Los Angeles police commission continued on its quixotic mission to stem "racial profiling" in the LAPD, this despite the absence of even a shred of evidence that such profiling occurs.

  • Later that week, even as the police commissioners busied themselves in the implementation of their vision of a bias-free utopia, the decision was made elsewhere in the LAPD to have some officers assigned to narcotics, vice, and gang assignments work during the day, thus sparing the city the expense of overtime payments to those officers when they attend court during their off-duty hours. The fact that the crimes those officers are supposed to investigate and curtail occur primarily at night was insufficient to deter this decision.

  • Capping the week was a ruling from a federal judge who lifted the restraining order that had blocked implementation of a remaining provision in the consent decree under which the LAPD has operated since 2001. The LAPD is now free to impose financial disclosure requirements on officers working gang and narcotics squads. The judge made his ruling despite the near-universal acknowledgment that the required measures will be ineffectual in curbing corruption and will only discourage officers from seeking assignment to the affected units.

  • The final insult -- in the current cycle, at least; more will surely follow -- came the following Monday with an article in the Los Angeles Daily News that completely mischaracterized changes being made to the LAPD's disciplinary system, changes designed to make the system more equitable to police officers and less burdensome to an already unwieldy bureaucracy.

LAPD officers take to the streets today weighted under the burden of all this officially sanctioned lunacy, compared to which the possibility of a mere gunfight or conk on the noggin is like a day at the beach. We'll work backward through the list.

The Daily News article described changes being made to a disciplinary system widely regarded within the LAPD as capricious and inflexible. Though much improved since 2002, when Bernard Parks was ousted as chief of the LAPD in favor of William Bratton, the system is still seen as an impediment to effective law enforcement, consuming resources and discouraging proactive police work. Deputy Chief Mark Perez, who heads the department's Professional Standards Bureau, describes the new system as one that puts "strategy over penalty." Sounds reasonable enough to me.

But note how Daily News writer Rachel Uranga summarizes the changes. "The new process applies across the board," she writes, "from officers who accidentally wreck their squad cars to those who beat or shoot people." Thus the reader is left to conclude that the LAPD will deal no more harshly with an officer who unjustifiably shoots or beats someone than they would with one who gets into a traffic accident. And Uranga opens the article with a hoary reference to two of the LAPD's more notorious perceived misdeeds, the Rodney King beating of 1991 and the May Day melee at L.A.'s MacArthur Park in 2007 (discussed here, here, and here). For all the hysteria generated over the May Day incident, acts of genuine police brutality were almost nonexistent. And as for Rodney King, if the LAPD's critics need to reach back 17 years for their evidence, maybe things in the department aren't as bad as they would have people believe.