2000 — the year in review:
Rampart scandal helps to reinvent the LAPD
Between the lawsuits, the convictions, the consent decree and the other mandated and recommended reforms made last year by both city and federal officials, the Los Angeles Police Department may emerge in coming years as a very different agency. At least that is the hope, given the firestorm of controversy ignited in 1999 by allegations of criminal misconduct in the Rampart Division’s anti-gang unit.
The LAPD remains mired in the scandal’s fallout, as more than 100 convictions have been thrown out thus far by judges and prosecutors, and 20 officers have left active duty. In November, two sergeants and one officer were convicted in the first trial stemming from the Rampart case. Officials expect 250 lawsuits to be filed by people who say they were wrongly accused, with the potential legal costs estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
On Sept.19, the City Council voted 10-2 to enter into a five-year consent decree with the Justice Department, making Los Angeles the largest law enforcement agency in the nation to come under federal oversight.
The decree came after a four-year investigation of the LAPD by the Justice Department, which concluded that the department had engaged in a pattern of civil rights violations. According to Bill Lann Lee, the assistant attorney general for civil rights, the consent decree builds on reforms recommended by the Christopher Commission. Among its major provisions is the development of a computerized tracking system to monitor the activities of all officers including complaints and commendations, and be used for annual evaluations.
Other elements in the package include the appointment of a monitor with access to all of the LAPD’s files and investigations, who will report the city’s progress in the implementing the consent decree to the federal court. A data-collection system will be developed to track the ethnicity, age and gender of all motorists and pedestrians stopped by officers. There will be an expanded role for the Inspector General and Police Commission in use-of-force cases and the creation of a new auditing unit in the police chief’s office to report on the implementation of reforms.
Also required by the decree is the development of a plan for responding to the mentally ill and a community outreach protocol for each of the city’s 18 geographic areas.
In addition to the consent decree’s mandated reforms, an LAPD Board of Inquiry issued its own searing evaluation of the agency in response to the Rampart scandal, concluding that the department needs to significantly change its screening and hiring practices. Greater oversight of the department’s anti-gang unit might have prevented some of the crimes committed by squad members, the board noted. Among its recommendations was a change in state law to permit the examination of financial records of officers assigned to sensitive details or who seem to be living beyond their means.
The LAPD has not yet heard the end of legal repercussions from the Rampart scandal. In one unprecedented twist, the department may find itself facing the same music as organized-crime figures, drug traffickers and others, after U.S. District Judge William J. Rea ruled in August that the department could be charged with racketeering activity under the federal RICO law. The lead plaintiff in the case, Louie Guerrero, has claimed that police beat him and falsely arrested him on drug charges in 1997. While Rea did not rule on the merits of Guerrero’s claim that the LAPD condoned and authorized the officers’ actions, his decision does allow the case to go forward.
The LAPD was also sued that same month by more than 40 current and former officers who filed a class action alleging that the agency’s “code of silence” was supported by officials and enforced through retaliation against whistle-blowers.