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COLUMN ONE : What Has Happened to the 'LAPD 44'? : Since the Christopher Commission singled out 'problem officers' in 1991, some have been fired, others promoted. A few have made the list a potent symbol of agency's woes.

October 15, 1995|ALAN ABRAHAMSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Three have been fired and 10 have quit.

Nine have been promoted.

Two have killed suspects while on duty. And one stands accused of falsifying evidence in a murder case.

For most of the 44 Los Angeles Police Department officers labeled "problem officers" in the landmark 1991 Christopher Commission report, the past four years have been tumultuous.

The commission said its intention was to illustrate, not define, what it called "the problem of excessive force in the LAPD." It singled out those with six or more complaints of excessive force or improper tactics lodged against them from 1986 through 1990--whether sustained or not.

But the results have been mixed. While the LAPD has weeded out some on the list, a handful continue to generate controversy. And the list remains a potent symbol of all that is wrong with the embattled LAPD--as was proven yet again in recent weeks when Officer Michael Falvo shot and killed a Lincoln Heights teen-ager.

Two nights of unrest followed the July 29 shooting. Then came the disclosure that Falvo had been assigned to volatile anti-gang patrol despite being on the list and having a lengthy history of alleged brutality.

"The Christopher Commission saw this kind of 'problem officer' as a symptom of a department whose values are inappropriate," said Rabbi Gary Greenebaum, former president of the Police Commission, the LAPD's civilian watchdog agency. "That these sorts of officers are not only tolerated but in many cases were promoted suggests that you've got a department that's out of sync with the rest of the community."

The more than 100 reforms urged by the Christopher Commission, meanwhile, have been slow in taking root, according to interviews with top LAPD officials and community activists.

The Police Commission has launched anew a thorough study of LAPD operations, including why commanders--up to and including top brass--are not held accountable for the use of force by subordinates, as the Christopher Commission recommended. Meaningful change is likely still to be at least a year away, said Deirdre Hill, the current Police Commission president.

But for those on the list, change came almost immediately.

The officers were frequently confronted with heightened scrutiny, transfers and make-work assignments--all of which commanders made clear was the price those on the list had to pay. As a result, many have spent the past four years brooding over their inclusion on the list, bemoaning lost career opportunities and angry at top department and police union officials for doing little or nothing to restore tarnished reputations.

Former Officer Taroo A. Mason, who was fired in 1990, said the general regard for those officers still with the LAPD is unforgiving: "They're lepers."

And so four years later, the list of 44 still presents a fundamental dilemma for the LAPD: What to do with those who remain?

Seeking to update the assignments and disciplinary histories of the 31 "problem officers" still on the force, The Times obtained a database prepared by the Police Commission. It tracks the records of each officer from 1991 through 1994.

The database followed 34 officers--three left this year. The database, along with interviews and a review of lawsuits, job evaluations and the transcripts of disciplinary and pension board hearings, reveals:

* Seven officers were involved in shootings. All but one of the incidents were ruled "in policy," meaning LAPD reviewers believed the officer had a right to fire. In the sole exception, Joe L. Moore was shot at while off duty in 1993 and returned fire with a warning shot. Moore said in an interview that he was formally reprimanded. The incident involving Falvo--too recent to be included in the database--is expected to be ruled "in policy," police sources said.

* Twenty-seven officers were the targets of 78 complaints. Four complaints were for use of excessive force, and 12 were for use of unauthorized force; none of these were sustained.

Five complaints, two of which were sustained, were for using unauthorized tactics. In a 1988 incident that did not come to light until 1991, Andrew A. Teague was captured on video pushing a suspect off a porch. That earned him an official reprimand. Thomas J. Hickey drew a one-day suspension for using his own rope to lock a handcuffed robbery suspect in the back of a police car during the 1992 riots.

The other 57 complaints included accusations that ranged from theft (lodged against one officer and ruled unfounded) to bad driving (traffic accidents involving six officers, all formally admonished).

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