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Racial profiling: DOJ concerns based on scant evidence; Police commissioners all too eager to find LAPD officers guilty. A witch hunt?

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 11/16/2010 @ 04:45 PM

A recent Los Angeles Times front page story detailed the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) warning to the LAPD over racial profiling and highlighted the reasons why the DOJ feels LAPD policies in this area are inadequate. In a letter to the Department that was leaked to the Times, the DOJ’s “concerns” over racial profiling cite such tenuous evidence as an inadvertent recording of two officers being dismissive of profiling complaints and an LAPD investigator’s failure to be as dogged in his questioning as Justice officials would’ve liked. We kid you not!

Of course, anyone with even the slightest knowledge of the Department’s efforts to investigate and address complaints of racial profiling has to shake their head in disbelief over the DOJ letter. Why the disbelief? Because the LAPD this year took decisive action by creating the Constitutional Policing Unit to beef up its ability to thoroughly and accurately investigate complaints of biased profiling. Indeed, all complaints made against an LAPD officer – even those that on the surface have no merit – are fully investigated. These complaints, which the Times story approximates at around 250 per year, accuse officers of targeting a person solely because of his or her race, ethnicity, religious garb or some other form of outward appearance.

These investigations are exhaustive and include a thorough, nearly 90-minute interview that begins with the officer being read his Miranda rights. At present, the Department has four LAPD officials assigned full time to grill officers accused of racial profiling. The annual taxpayer tab for these assignments is over $500,000 – not including the tens of thousands of dollars it costs to simply transcribe the interviews.

It’s no secret certain leaders are deeply disappointed that these extensive investigations have yet to produce any evidence of racial profiling. At a recent Police Commission meeting, for example, the disappointment in Commissioner Rob Saltzman’s voice was palpable. As he badgered Commander Richard Webb, who presented an outstanding report on Constitutional Policing and racial profiling, Commissioner Saltzman pressed for a “different result” in the future. Commissioner John Mack chimed in, wondering if perhaps some other piece of information could result in finding some officers in violation.

We are proud of Chief Beck’s response to the Times story. The Chief said the conversation of two officers is not indicative of widespread practices at the Department and that the Justice Department investigation is based on cases that predated strict investigative guidelines put into place last year. “It is a huge leap to paint the entire department with that brush,” Beck told the Times. “And it is just not true. It's not that type of department. We have a tough history that we must overcome and that takes time, but…the vast, vast majority of Los Angeles police officers today police in the right ways for the right reasons.”

Rather than being proud of the LAPD, some police commissioners are struggling to find ways of changing the standards to make it easier to find LAPD officers guilty of racial profiling. It’s troubling that folks with this biased mindset are charged with overseeing the LAPD.

The good news, however, is that the LAPD is not a department that racially profiles, but instead, does excellent police work every day. It is important to have a robust complaint process that ensures the discovery of officers who violate policy, but, as every American knows, an accusation does not automatically mean ‘guilty.’ Due process is a concept that one would reasonably expect a commissioner who previously headed a civil rights organization and a commissioner currently serving as dean of a law school, to understand and embrace.

Clearly, because of space limitations, what the Times was not able to do was detail for readers the LAPD’s extensive process of investigating racial profiling complaints. Instead, the story was yet another reminder that some people, be they police commissioners or ill-informed DOJ attorneys, will keep clinging to their outdated beliefs about the LAPD and racial profiling, facts and evidence be damned.

Police commissioners have an ethical responsibility to not manufacture circumstances that serve their personal views or political agendas. Unfortunately, their recent public comments have sent the wrong message to LAPD officers and the public – that the LAPD complaint system should meet ‘guilty’ quotas for every type of complaint, even in the absence of substantiating evidence.

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Latest civil suit verdict should be a wake-up call

By John R. Mumma on 11/12/2010 @ 04:42 PM

Another sunny day in Los Angeles, another multimillion dollar jury award to a former LAPD officer treated unfairly. This, of course, does not happen every day, but it does happen all too often for a city that is in such dire budget straits that it forces veteran cops to fill in for clerical workers at the stations and can’t afford to hire jailers.

Consider the latest case, which involved 18-year veteran officer Richard Romney. He was fired in February 2008 in retaliation for telling the truth in testimony against the Department in a labor dispute. A Los Angeles federal jury awarded him nearly $4 million on November 2. This brought the total awards to former LAPD officers and sergeants to more than $20 million since 2008. When will the City and LAPD command staff learn?

For those keeping score, here are the major awards in just the past three years:

  • Officer Richard Romney -- $4 million (plus $1.6 million in anticipated additional legal fees)
  • Sergeant Blaine Blackstone -- $2 million (including legal fees)
  • Officer Paul Waymire -- $125,000
  • Officer Malcolm Thomas -- $700,000
  • Officer Melissa Borck -- $2.3 million
  • Officer Patricia Fuller -- $2.5 million
  • Officer Donald Bender -- $3.5 million
  • Officer Robert Hill -- $3.1 million
  • Sergeant Ya-May Christle -- $1 million

It gets worse. The awards above don’t include an additional $18 million paid to Officer Paul Harper, and Sergeants Edward Ortiz and Brian Liddy, whose earlier verdicts were upheld by an appellate court in 2008 (and thus accrued an extra $3 million in interest). So in reality, Los Angeles taxpayers are liable for over $38,000,000 to LAPD officers in just the past three years thanks to persistent systemic abuses within the LAPD. But because not a single cent of that money came out of the LAPD budget, nothing, it seems, has changed.

If these outrageous totals haven’t been enough to get the attention of the Chief of Police, Police Commission, Mayor and City Council, and prompt them to reconsider their actions and decisions, perhaps realizing that there are still other pending cases with facts nearly identical to Romney’s will bring about the needed changes. Meanwhile, we can only continue to watch the tally grow and wonder when the madness will finally end.

Los Angeles Times reporter Joel Rubin, in a story on the Romney case, wrote: “The verdict, which stems from one of several similar lawsuits that thousands of disgruntled LAPD officers are pursuing against the department, underscores a long-running, internal rift between LAPD cops and the department’s command staff that could ultimately cost the city millions of dollars more.” Just how many millions is anyone’s guess.

Now would be a good time for LAPD command staff to take a hard look at how it’s been handling these cases and change its ways to avoid exposing the City to even higher liabilities. Certainly, by now everyone can agree that there is a systemic problem here that needs urgent attention from the top.

The month before he was fired, Romney had testified in a federal lawsuit brought by officers against the LAPD who accused the Department of violating a federal law that sets rules on when officers must be compensated for overtime work. He testified that the high volume of calls for help during a typical patrol shift in South L.A. meant he often did not take his 45-minute meal break and, instead, followed an unwritten department policy that barred officers from requesting pay for less than an hour of overtime.

Within days of his testimony, LAPD opened an investigation on Romney, outrageously claiming he had violated departmental overtime policy. Then-Chief Bratton rejected a recommendation that Romney be given a one-day suspension and instead prevailed on a disciplinary panel to fire him despite the League’s insistence that such action was unwarranted and a direct violation of federal law. When his firing was upheld through the City process, the only avenue left for Romney was to sue.

The City had ample opportunity to reverse course and do the right thing by Officer Romney before the case escalated into a multimillion dollar payout. Indeed, a League funded lawyer for Romney put the City on notice in April 2009 that if the firing of Romney were upheld, “a federal lawsuit for retaliation under (federal labor law) for testifying about FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act) violations could potentially expose the City to multiple millions of dollars.” Alas, that is exactly what happened.

The League has been involved in all of these cases. The common thread running through them is that at the center of each were officers who simply wanted to be treated fairly, get their jobs back and not be the targets of retribution. We can only hope the jury’s verdict in the Romney case is the wakeup call our City leaders badly need to start acting responsibly, exercising sound judgment and following all applicable labor laws – including the protections from retribution and retaliation for whistle blowing. While the League has not funded any of these civil suits, we share the intent: Los Angeles Police Officers deserve to be treated with the same fairness and respect afforded to the citizens of L.A. If LAPD can’t treat its own properly, how can anyone expect the officers it employs to behave any differently? The League joins with the citizens of Los Angeles and expects our members to uphold the absolutely highest standards and treat all citizens fairly under the law; and we DEMAND that our members be treated the same way by the Department.

For more, make sure you read my December Blue Line article.

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Killings of a Riverside police officer and a five-year-old boy raise more questions about the adequacy of parole supervision

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 11/10/2010 @ 04:45 PM

As we mourn the shooting death of Riverside Police Officer Ryan P. Bonaminio, we are grateful an arrest has been made by police and FBI agents. The suspect, 44-year-old Earl Ellis Green of Rubidoux, was arrested at 8 p.m. on Tuesday at a Riverside Target store. He was booked for murder and a parole violation. He is being held at a Riverside detention center without bail and could face charges making him eligible for the death penalty.

Green’s apprehension is welcome news, but we are nevertheless very troubled by the strong possibility that a properly functioning state parole system might have prevented the tragic killing of a police officer. This has been our worst fear since state budget cuts prompted a dangerous relaxation of parole guidelines.

Green has a long criminal history spanning almost three decades that includes convictions for domestic violence, battery of a police officer, drug dealing and vehicle theft. In 2007, Green was found guilty of felony vandalism and sentenced to three years in state prison, but served fewer than 20 months. He was released as a low level, non-violent parolee with the next-to-lowest level of supervision. Hardly a non-violent person, even Green’s own family had recently sought a restraining order against him, according to a KNX report.

These facts raise two important questions for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) that warrant complete and honest answers.

  1. Why was parolee Earl Ellis Green, who was on parole for domestic violence and who also had an extensive criminal arrest history, designated a low level, non-violent criminal and subsequently assigned to the next-to-lowest level of parole supervision?
  2. Does the CDCR consider domestic violence to be a violent offense and if not, why not?

In a separate case that also calls into question the adequacy of current parole supervision, retired parole agent Caroline Aguirre, blogging for RonKayeLA.com, says that on the date and time of the Halloween murder of five-year-old Aaron Shannon Jr., “…one of his accused killers, Leonard Hall, was on Active Parole Supervision for Possession of Controlled Substance and Disregard for Safety.” Like Earl Ellis Green, Hall, too, “…was being supervised at next to the lowest level of parole.” Aguirre also adds that, “Hall, 21, had a special condition of parole that forbid [sic] him to associate with known [gang] members like Marcus Denson, 18, his alleged accomplice in the murder of this innocent child.”

According to the Ron Kaye blog, a march and rally will be held in El Sereno from 1974 N. Marianna Ave. to the 1800 block of Landsdowne Ave. at 1:30 p.m. this Saturday to demand an investigation of the Division of Adult Parole Operations and that those responsible for the breakdown in parole supervision be held accountable. Attorney Robin Sax, a former county prosecutor and expert on rape and child molestation issues, will be the featured speaker.

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The MDC staffing decision: LA residents deserve better
The further hollowing of the LAPD

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 10/28/2010 @ 04:01 PM

In 2002, Los Angeles voters approved Proposition Q, a citywide public safety bond measure to fund the construction of 11 new police facilities and the renovation of 12 police stations. One of the facilities, constructed at a cost of $74 million, is the five-floor, 172,000-square-foot Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC). Voters who approved Prop Q had a reasonable expectation that upon completion, this state-of-the-art jail would be fully utilized for its intended purpose.

Four years later, the City enacted higher trash fees in order to add 1,000 officers to the LAPD and bring the force’s numbers to 10,000. Again, residents had a reasonable expectation that the money would go toward its intended purpose, the hiring of police officers to provide increased community protection.

So in 2010, where do we stand? The $74 million MDC sits vacant—unused because there simply aren’t enough civilian detention officers in the ranks to staff it. In the meantime, to avoid overtime pay, hundreds of police officers are placed on forced days off instead of filling vacancies in patrols. This happens on a daily basis. At the same time, a drastic reduction in the civilian workforce has resulted in hundreds of sworn officers being taken off the streets and put into offices where they perform administrative and support functions at nearly twice the cost of a civilian employee.

As we said in April, the LAPD is becoming a “hollow” police force.

For every 100 officers who get pulled from field work to backfill vacant civilian positions, we lose the equivalent of about 30 police cars citywide, which dramatically and detrimentally impacts our ability to respond to calls and keep crime down. We are receiving daily reports from our officers telling us that they are spending increasing amounts of time in the station performing administrative tasks instead of fighting crime on the streets. This threatens to reverse the LAPD's historic rates of crime reduction in recent years.

Now we’ve learned that 87 more LAPD officers will be pulled off the streets and put to work running the Metropolitan Detention Center. LAPD officials say the reassignments will allow the jail to open by early February, ending months of debate on how to operate the MDC and finally shutter the rundown detention center at Parker Center.

Although we agree that the closure of the Parker Center facility is long overdue, we don’t agree that it is prudent or fiscally responsible for sworn police officers to work as jailers. It isn’t the job they were hired to do. Moreover, it represents a poor return on the significant investment that city taxpayers have made in training the men and women of the LAPD.

LAPD officials and City leaders need to rethink how they are deploying the precious resource they have in LAPD officers. The residents of Los Angeles placed their trust in City leaders to do the right thing when they agreed to pay higher trash fees in return for expanded police service. They also trusted their City officials to be good stewards of the general fund by using City employees in accordance with the job classifications they were hired for.

It takes a long time to build trust. Keeping it requires a commitment to do what’s promised and make the right choices when faced with dilemmas. If LAPD officials and City leaders don’t revisit the jail staffing decision and find a better solution, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to regain the trust of Los Angeles voters.

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My Last Word on Financial Disclosure – WASN’T

By Tyler Izen on 10/27/2010 @ 01:05 PM

On February 1, 2010, “My Last Word on Financial Disclosure” was posted on our blog. While the politics, mismanagement and ill-prepared and executed consent decree negotiation that resulted in the current financial disclosure requirement do make me crazy, I really intended to say my peace and move on. But our Department leadership just won’t let me!

The Chief feels great pressure to have our officers sign financial disclosure documents and join gang and narcotics units. Unfortunately, it seems that his desire to convince people that the requirements of financial disclosure are insignificant has led to misguided and erroneous statements by the police performance auditor, who is primarily responsible for the auditing of financial disclosure forms. I documented some of the misleading information that was provided during a meeting at Mission Area in an email that I forwarded to him. You can read that email here. In a nutshell, I, along with the entire Board of Directors, consider any effort to minimize the possible effects of financial disclosure or the audit process required as a ploy to entice people into signing it.

My feelings on financial disclosure have not changed. Unfortunately, neither have the requirements, the special order, or the dangers and pitfalls. I do not believe there will be any positive changes to the financial disclosure policy unless police officers refuse to sign it.

If you have been told that something has changed, please ask for it in writing. If you are going to attend an informational meeting and use that information to make your decision, please make an audio recording of the meeting (with everyone’s knowledge, of course) and keep it for future reference.

Financial disclosure is a source of frustration for all of us. However, the Department leadership has an obligation to provide accurate information unless they want a topic that is already so hotly contested to also become divisive.

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Going above and beyond, and making the ultimate sacrifice for his country

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 10/22/2010 @ 04:14 PM

The 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment was scheduled to complete its mission in the field of Afghanistan’s war-torn Helmand Province yesterday. Tragically, Staff Sergeant and LAPD Officer Joshua J. Cullins was not with his fellow Marines when troops arrived to relieve them. He died on Tuesday – only two days earlier - from a roadside bomb as his unit was investigating an explosion.

Joshua didn’t have to be there. Rather than return to Los Angeles to rejoin the Department ranks and leave his Marine unit behind, he volunteered for a second tour of duty in Afghanistan. He chose to risk his life - the ultimate sacrifice - to be part of a mission he truly believed in. He wanted to make a difference, and to those who knew him he did. In our book, this redefines the phrase “above and beyond the call of duty.”

In July, Joshua was injured by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan. He made a remarkable recovery and wanted nothing more than to get back to work. That was just the kind of guy he was. Knowing all he’d been through and how he’d worked so hard to recover quickly, it was crushing to learn of his death. We’ve all began a grieving process that will not soon end.

LAPD Officer Joshua J. Cullins

Joshua was the second member of the LAPD to die fighting for his country in the Iraq/Afghanistan conflict. Less than seven months ago, we lost Robert J. Cottle, an LAPD SWAT officer and sergeant major with a United States Marine Corps Reserve battalion. Clearly a common thread in the character among our United States military, R.J. too had volunteered for the deployment that ultimately took his life.

Joshua joined the LAPD in 2008 and had a most promising law enforcement career ahead of him. His positive impact on the Department during his short time with us speaks to the character of this great Angelino and great American.

We invite you to share your personal experiences and memories of Joshua as we do our best to honor him as a fellow officer, friend and hero. Leave a comment here, or if you have a longer story and/or photos to share, send them to info@lappl.org. If possible, please provide the date that the photo was taken, its location and name everyone in the shot.

We will always remember Joshua J. Cullins. To honor him, R.J. and all of the other men and women who have been killed while serving our Country, we must never forget that the sacrifices they made were for us.

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Audits reveal urgent need for corrective action

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 10/16/2010 @ 02:11 PM

The audits coming from the office of City Controller Wendy Greuel these days paint a dismal picture of the city government’s ability to manage its finances. While this would be unacceptable in the best of economic times, it is particularly galling and painful at a time when city services – including public safety – are being curtailed in an effort to make ends meet.

The latest audit released this week found that mismanagement of workers compensation claims by the city was costing taxpayers millions of dollars. The audit — which former City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo tried to block by suing then-City Controller Laura Chick — found that failure to collect from third parties responsible for employee injuries may have cost the city more than $3 million each year. Another $1 to 2 million is potentially being lost through use of a practice of adjusting disability payments to mask errors committed by the Personnel Department, according to the audit. Finally, the audit found that it was taking on average more than five-and-a-half years to resolve cases.

This scathing audit came on the heels of another released in July for fiscal year 2008-09 that showed only 53 percent of some $553 million in city billings was collected, resulting in a loss of $260 million annually. Translation: The City is leaving $1 million on the table each and every business day.

City leaders are quick to look to city workers for easy fixes to the budget mess. Greuel’s audits suggest their time could be better spent collecting the money that is owed to the City and finding ways to fix wasteful business practices that rob the city treasury of desperately needed funds.

It is important to recognize that this important audit relied on the city controller receiving permission by the city attorney to conduct the review because it was housed in his office. When voters overwhelmingly approved charter reform in 1999, they gave sweeping new powers to the city controller to conduct performance audits over city programs.

Unfortunately a lone judge ruled that the city controller does not have the ability to audit taxpayer funded programs if they are housed within an elected official’s office. Surely the voters didn’t intend to let a politician’s door stop transparency and accountability

This issue is winding its way through the appeals process but could be easily settled by asking the voters to clarify the issue at the ballot box. Next March’s city election would be a good time to do this.

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People want to know - Deal or No Deal?

By LAPPL Board of Directors on 10/10/2010 @ 10:17 PM

Apparently, Jerry Brown isn’t the only one who doesn’t understand why he did not get the endorsement of the Los Angeles Police Protective League.

In the taped message he inadvertently left on a Protective League answering machine, Brown aides referred to Meg Whitman as a “whore” who got our endorsement, implying that she traded a public safety "carve out" on pension reform, for the League's endorsement. Media and others have jumped on that assumption as the reason we endorsed Meg Whitman. Wrong!

Brown was clearly uninformed as to how the pension system in Los Angeles works. As a charter city, Los Angeles has its own pension system and enacts its own pension formulas. Any changes in police pensions, such as the tier increase in 1998 that was actively supported by former Mayor Richard Riordan, have to be approved by voters in the City of Los Angeles.

Meg Whitman is not a resident of Los Angeles or a member of any governing body in the City of Los Angeles. If elected Governor, she would have no say in any changes to the pension formulas in the City of Los Angeles.

The reason Meg Whitman received our endorsement is because of her positions on issues of public safety. She has stated that she is committed to fully fund public safety and she is a lifelong supporter of the death penalty. When we endorsed her, we clearly stated that Whitman understands that jobs, the economy and budgets are the key issues affecting the future of the California. We have serious concerns about Attorney General Jerry Brown’s budgetary management skills and believe Whitman is better suited for the economic challenges facing California now.

The facts are this: The LAPPL interviewed both candidates, posed a series of questions to both and based on the candidate's responses as they related to public safety and law enforcement, made a decision. It is true, Whitman has proposed offering only 401(k) defined-contribution pensions to new state employees while letting police and fire personnel continue to receive defined-benefit pensions, but that will NOT impact Los Angeles police officers.

Neither Meg Whitman nor Jerry Brown can affect the pensions of police officers in Los Angeles, now or in the future. What they can do is have a great impact on public safety throughout the state—including Los Angeles.

"Paid for by the Los Angeles Police Protective League PAC. Not authorized by any candidate or committee controlled by a candidate".

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