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Confidential LAPD File

Confidential LAPD misconduct files mistakenly posted on Internet

A clerical error is blamed for the disclosure, which violates the Police Commission's own privacy policy, and perhaps state law.

By Joel Rubin Los Angeles Times

The Los Angeles Police Commission violated its own strict privacy policy -- and perhaps state law -- on Friday, releasing a confidential report on the Internet that contained the names of hundreds of officers accused of racial profiling and other misconduct.

The blunder, which police officials attributed to a clerical error, marks an embarrassing misstep for a police department that has staunchly rebuffed efforts by the public to learn the identities of accused officers and gain greater access to the discipline process. "This was an unfortunate mistake," said Richard Tefank, executive director of the civilian oversight body. "The Police Commission will work with the Police department to insure that it does not happen again."

An electronic version of the report, which was disseminated to members of the news media in an e-mail and posted to the city's website, included the names of about 250 officers recently investigated by the LAPD's Internal Affairs Group over allegations that they used a person's race to justify a traffic or pedestrian stop.

The commission and department staff had reviewed an earlier paper copy of the report that did not contain the confidential information and assumed the electronic version would be the same, Tefank said.

The Los Angeles Police Department has sparred for years with news media organizations and other 1st Amendment groups over the question of the public's access to police discipline proceedings.

After a state Supreme Court decision, the department in 2006 sharply curtailed a long-standing policy in which discipline hearings were open and officers' names released. Citing the opinion of City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo that such transparency would violate state law, the department and commission now make only anonymous summaries of discipline cases available.

In the court case, Copley Press Inc. vs. Superior Court of San Diego County, the court prohibited public disclosure of personnel records of a sheriff's deputy appealing his discipline to a civil service commission.

Delgadillo's office declined to comment on the possible legal consequences that the LAPD could face because of the privacy breach.

Tom Newton, general counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Assn., said the inadvertent release of the officers' names underscores the importance of the public having access to police discipline matters.

"These are facts gathered by professionals in a public institution," he said. "Now that these names are out, there may be important stories that can be told."

Word of the report sent the department and commission into damage-control mode. The website was taken down within an hour while representatives from the commission and Police Chief William J. Bratton's command staff called the president of the union that represents the department's 9,500 rank-and-file officers to apologize.

Union officials have fought fiercely to keep officers' personal information private, saying its release could jeopardize officer safety. Recently, it has tried to block a new department policy that requires some officers to disclose personal financial information, saying the department cannot be trusted to keep the information safe.

"This is outrageous, absolutely outrageous," said Paul M. Weber, president of the Police Protective League. "It confirms our concern that the department cannot protect its own employees. This is confidential information."

He said the union plans to file a lawsuit against the department over the matter.


Still “Preposterous,” Mr. Rutten?

By Jack Dunphy

In two posts from early last year (here and here), I discussed the ongoing dispute regarding a provision in the federal consent decree governing the Los Angeles Police Department that requires gang and narcotics officers to provide financial disclosure information to auditors as a means of preventing corruption. The Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union representing rank-and-file officers, has contested the implementation of this provision, and the case is now under review in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

One objection officers have to providing this information is that there is no guarantee that it will be safeguarded as promised, exposing the officers to such mischief as identity theft or perhaps worse. L.A. Times columnist Tim Rutten scoffed at this, calling the officers’ concerns “preposterous” and “baloney.”

Ahem.

Today the Times reports on the inadvertent release by the LAPD of a confidential report on officers accused of racial profiling, a report that included the officers’ names. The release, says the Times, violated LAPD policy and perhaps even state law. The blunder was blamed on a “clerical error.”

Not so preposterous now, is it?

–Jack Dunphy


Police Privacy is the Priority

Re "A case for LAPD openness," editorial, Feb. 10

Hopefully, the arms of Times editors aren't sore after their vigorous back-patting for the paper's "conscientious discernment" in not publishing a report that was negligently released by the Los Angeles Police Department in violation of its own policy and state law.

The report contained detailed information on officers investigated and cleared of racial profiling as well as information on the complaining parties. The Times' non-publication of this report does not overcome our strong opposition to the opening of board of rights hearings. It certainly doesn't cause us to drop opposition to the requirement that officers in specialized positions divulge all of their own and their family's personal financial information to the department.

The newspaper's "discernment" is clearly situational. The Times was the first paper to identify by name the alleged victim of pop singer Chris Brown, despite the LAPD's refusal to confirm the name after citing privacy laws. Sorry, but L.A. police officers aren't willing to subject their privacy rights to the whims of the media.

Paul M. Weber Los Angeles

The writer is president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League.