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LAPD's Inspector General Goes to Work

Police: Katherine Mader may hold the key to control of the department.

June 29, 1996|JIM NEWTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Katherine Mader arrived at work early Friday, her first day in a new job. She fumbled for the right key, then popped the door to her office and dumped a load of documents on a desk already covered with computer printouts, Los Angeles Police Department personnel files and her own detailed game plan of how to proceed.

There is, after all, plenty to do.

Mader's arrival marked the first day of the first inspector general in the history of the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners, a position whose creation was long anticipated and, in some quarters, dreaded.

Within the Police Department, Mader--an incisive, determined former deputy district attorney who investigated police shootings and prosecuted an LAPD officer for murder--already is seen as a powerful force in city policing. Some view her as a new intrusion on the LAPD's historical autonomy; others see her as a necessary check on a department still struggling for public acceptance. Virtually all agree that she will act as a bellwether in the shifting and tense battle for leadership of the LAPD.

"This is one more step in the new and improved direction of this department," one high-ranking official sarcastically grumbled. "Policing by lawyers."

By contrast, the police commissioners who hired Mader and the reform advocates who have pressed for the creation of her job since 1991 say her first day marked an important step in the restoration of public trust in the LAPD--especially its much-maligned disciplinary process. Starting Friday, Mader assumed responsibility not for imposing discipline, but for monitoring the way the LAPD investigates and disciplines its own.

Beyond that, she also will be empowered to take on projects as the Police Commission sees fit--jobs ranging from tracking the LAPD investigation of former Det. Mark Fuhrman to conducting audits on the status of reform proposals. The goal, commissioners say, is to have an independent official constantly scrutinize the department and report the results to the commission and a sometimes skeptical public.

"The department can't lose sight of the fact that the public needs to have confidence in the process," said Police Commissioner Raymond C. Fisher, a leading force behind Mader's hiring. "It's very important for the department to win back the public's trust."

The goal of restoring public confidence was in the forefront for the Christopher Commission, whose reform blueprint remains the guiding model for today's LAPD. In its report, the Christopher Commission lamented the understaffing of the Police Commission and argued that the dearth of civilian oversight had allowed excessive force to fester.

Its recipe: more Police Commission staffing and stricter civilian oversight. The Christopher panel considered recommending that an outside civilian review board handle LAPD discipline, but compromised instead. It proposed leaving discipline inside the department but adding an inspector general, whose job would be to monitor discipline and ensure that it was handled fairly.

Five years later, Mader's hiring has fulfilled part of that mandate.

The question now: Can she make the job work, or will departmental resistance and other obstacles undermine the position that so many observers believe is key to the reform process?

That question stands at the heart of LAPD reform and of the debate over who will lead the department in the years ahead, its chief and his command staff or the civilian Police Commission charged with setting policy for the LAPD.

"There are some people who don't like change of any kind, and obviously the reforms constitute change," said Mader. "But I look forward to working very closely with people within the department, and I know that there are many people within the department who are eager to press forward with the reforms recommended by the Christopher Commission."

Dogged and thorough, Mader has worked as both a defense attorney and a prosecutor. She has prosecuted some police officers and investigated others for alleged offenses such as excessive force, perjury and murder. Twice she tried to persuade juries to convict LAPD Officer Douglas Iversen of murdering a tow-truck driver in a 1992 shooting, but the panels could not agree either time, and eventually the case was dismissed.

Many lawyers and others who know Mader say they expect her to approach her task relentlessly, an assessment that comes from adversaries as well as allies. John Barnett, who represented Iversen, gave her an opponent's highest compliment. "I would not want her after me," he said.

In addition to her work as a lawyer, Mader headed the state's Patients' Rights Office in the mid-1970s. She distinguished herself in that role of monitoring state hospitals by not shying away from controversy. Her first acts in her new job suggest that she remains unafraid of confrontation.

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