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The LAPD Discipline System
. . . at long last, will foul become fair?

Bill Murray - 6/24/02


A big, welcome, balanced change in approach

There are times when I wish the community and members of the Department could regularly view the proceedings of Police Commission meetings on evening television, just as it can City Council.

Last week was one of those times ...

On Tuesday, the Police Commission unveiled the beginnings of what promises to be a very favorably received approach to the LAPD internal discipline system. Line officers and commanders alike should appreciate the direction the Board is taking, and the Los Angeles community should be all the better protected and served.

An unassuming Commission Vice President Rose Ochi, whose impressive background is in the field of criminal justice, police and community relations, human rights and civil liberty, revealed the work to date on a project she's been steering since October. The Discipline Study Work Group, which Commissioner Ochi chairs, presented its proposed revisions of LAPD's complaint process as it relates to the discipline system.

Bottom line, within as little as 60 days the Department may be ready to institute regulations which will simultaneously fulfill all the requirements of the Consent Decree and City Charter, but at the same time relieve the burden now felt by officers, commanders, and community alike.

The plan calls for a measured but relatively quick response to about 30% of the types of complaints logged against officers in recent years. It is hoped that many of them may be adjudicated within a 24 hour time frame.

How it will work

All community complaints against Department staff will continue to be taken, and each will generate a Complaint Form (CF) and a number that tracks the complaint through the system, insuring follow-through and accurate reporting. Nothing that is being considered will change any existing policy ... but how up to 1/3 of all complaints are handled will change.

Supervisory commanders, usually Division Captains, will be given authority to immediately make decisions on these relatively minor "service" complaints. Essentially it was found that one third of all complaints fall into this category, often the result of either the public not understanding why an officer took an action, or of an officer not understanding a Department policy.

Area Commanders may be given assistance with dispute resolutions by the inclusion of some form of community involvement ... perhaps there will be participation by either Block Captains or C-PAB members. All decisions will be separately reviewed at the Bureau level, assuring quality control. The Bureau will either agree or will pass the complaint on to Internal Affairs investigators.

Any exonerated complaint would not become a part of the employee's permanent record, although because a Complaint Form ID number will be generated, the TEAMS2, Risk Management, Inspector General, and Consent Decree Monitor's offices will all be able to track and review the progress of the Department.

What it will mean

Everyone agrees that strict discipline is necessary for misconduct and neglect of duty. But until now an officer often had to wait months to hear the results of an investigation into even the most frivolous complaints, and the records became a part of a personnel file, holding the officer from advancement and promotions.

Morale had dipped to a low point, with many electing to leave the LAPD for other agencies. The perception of LAPD as a good place to have a law enforcement career was seriously damaged and recruiting had suffered. An already thin Department had become overburdened with a system that demanded full Internal Affairs investigations of every complaint, no matter how silly.

Under these circumstances, the community was not getting all it could out of the Department, with so much of its resources being devoted to a burdensome, overbearing, bureaucratic process.

The Discipline Study Work Group gave some examples of misconduct and perceived misconduct:

MISCONDUCT - Discourtesy
(complaint based on improper conduct)
(complaint based on perception)

The officer called me a #$%^&@@#.

The officer told me that if I didn't like America I should go back on the boat I came in on.

The officer flipped me the "bird."

Someone hung up on me.

The officer said, "Have a nice day," after giving a ticket.

The officer said, "Thank you," but meant it sarcastically.

The officer looked like he didn't care about my problem.

The officer didn't give me a chance to tell my side.

The officer had his hand on his gun while he talked to me (resting on holstered gun).

They were not cordial on the phone (PSR during a 911 call).

The Detective called me a "liar" during an interrogation.

The Detective called me "an unfit mother."

MISCONDUCT - Neglect of Duty
(complaint based on improper conduct)
DISCRETIONARY - Neglect of Duty
(complaint based on perception)

The officer told me traffic reports can not be taken at the patrol desk and sent me to drive across town.

The officer forgot to let me out of the interview room and I had to sleep there.

There was a parked police car in front of my house (on the public street) and they refused to move it.

The officer did not read me my Miranda rights (for a non-custodial detention / arrest).

They failed to send a car for my barking dog problem.

The officer did not take a traffic report (for a property damage only collision - not required).

They refused to evict my tenant.

They took the side of the other party.

My property was destroyed (excess property unclaimed after specified period noted on the receipt).

They released the person I wanted arrested (private person arrest - unlawful).

No one called me back on my case.

We applaud the Commission which is working so hard on behalf of the officers, the Department as a whole, and the community.

The officers deserve a complaint / discipline system that's fair, not foul.


Note: This list will not be shared with any other group, nor will it be used for purposes other than promoting Los Angeles Community Policing.

Yours in service,

Bill Murray

Thank you for supporting your LAPD Officers.

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