Many performance evaluations mentioned the absence of personnel complaints as a ground for concluding that a particular officer was doing well. In some instances, the statement was simply wrong.
Patrol Car Computer Communications
The existence of a significant number of officers with an unacceptable and improper attitude regarding the use of force is supported by the commission's review of computer messages sent from patrol cars throughout the city. Those messages also evidence the LAPD's management problem in the area of use of force.
Although the vast majority of messages reviewed appeared to be routine police communications, there were a number of messages, similar to those publicized after the King incident, in which officers from all geographical areas of the city talked about beating suspects and other members of the public: "Capture him, beat him and treat him like dirt. . . ."
Only when the MDT (mobile digital terminal) messages following the Rodney King incident inflamed the public did the department take action to monitor and audit the system. It then found, by its own count, 260 patently offensive comments over a one-month period.
Force-Related Civil Litigation
The commission staff reviewed the files of all 83 cases of alleged excessive or improper force by LAPD officers that resulted in a settlement or judgment of more than $15,000 during the five-year period 1986 through 1990. Based on the evidence examined in this review, a majority of the cases appeared to involve clear and often egregious misconduct resulting in serious injury or death to victims, although some of the cases involved accidental or negligent conduct. The LAPD's investigation of these 83 cases was flawed in many respects, and discipline against the officers involved was frequently light or nonexistent. Moreover, the LAPD does not have adequate procedures in place to review or learn from the results of this litigation.
From 1986 through 1990, members of the public filed over 2,500 claims alleging personal injury or property damage resulting from the use of force by LAPD officers. Not all claims were pursued formally in court, but filing such a claim is prerequisite to a lawsuit.
Claims alleging excessive use of force represented the majority of all claims filed against the LAPD. During this five-year period, members of the public filed 3,716 claims with the city for non-traffic-related incidents involving the LAPD. Over two-thirds of these claims involved allegations of excessive use of force against police officers.
Although the total number of non-traffic-related claims declined consistently from 1986 to 1990, the proportion of excessive force claims remained constant. Assault and battery was the single largest category of allegations, constituting over 25% of the total allegations in all non-traffic-related claims against the LAPD.
From 1986 through 1990, the city paid in excess of $20 million in judgments, settlements and jury verdicts in over 300 lawsuits against LAPD officers alleging excessive use of force. Excessive force cases accounted for nearly 85% of the total amount of damages and settlements the city incurred in non-traffic related police litigation during this period. As with the citizen claims discussed above, assault and battery was the single largest category of allegations in all non-traffic-related police litigation.
Chief Gates testified that the LAPD lacks effective procedures or "feedback" for reviewing the results of civil litigation involving LAPD officers. . . . Given the millions of dollars paid by the city as a result of use of force by LAPD officers, and the egregious conduct revealed in some of the lawsuits, the department must establish procedures to monitor the results of civil litigation and make use of the information obtained.
Information about officers' conduct that becomes available in the litigation should be used in evaluating those officers. Conduct that results in large settlements or judgments, including punitive damages awarded on the basis of egregious or intentional misconduct, should be carefully studied to determine what went wrong and why.
A promising possibility for reducing excessive force and assisting the LAPD and the city in defending civil litigation is video technology. The state-of-the-art technology utilizes a small camera mounted in the patrol vehicle, which can be turned on either manually, or automatically with lights or sirens.
Many LAPD officers have contended that a major problem with the department's use of force policy is the perceived gap in "middle-level" use of force options. When dealing with a combative suspect, many officers complain of a lack of realistic department-approved options between talking and using the baton.