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LAPD Inspector General Runs Head-on Into Success

November 15, 1998|David D. Dotson | David D. Dotson is a former assistant chief of the Los Angeles Police Department

Can an appropriately independent and aggressive Police Commission appoint an appropriately independent inspector general capable of navigating the politics of the job?

Judging by Katherine Mader's experience, probably not. Last week, she announced her resignation as inspector general, reportedly just one step ahead of her ouster by the commission, the civilian panel that is, by law, the head of the Los Angeles Police Department.

Why it happened this way says as much about the invisible hand of the city's political culture as it does about the personalities involved. When the political and business establishment believes that the Police Department is doing its job well, and crime statistics bear this out, will it encourage rigorous oversight of its officers? Mader not only faced structural obstacles in doing her job, she had to operate in a climate more akin to the 1950s than to that created by the beating of Rodney G. King by LAPD officers in 1991. The handwriting was on the wall from the beginning.

Mader was appointed inspector general in mid-1996, five years after the Christopher Commission recommended such a position in its 1991 report. From the LAPD's viewpoint, she brought some baggage to the job: Mader previously had prosecuted police officers, among other public officials, while a member of the L.A. County district attorney's office. She also had legally defended some notably unsavory clients, a fact that didn't endear her to many cops, either.

No surprise, then, that Mader and Police Department management, lacking any guiding precedent, immediately disagreed on her role and the scope of her authority. There was no public indication that the Police Commission, the only entity with the authority to do so, ever stepped in to clarify matters. Only recently did the current commission president, Edith Perez, issue a memorandum on the subject, and that one significantly restricted Mader's authority to investigate police misconduct and placed her under the supervision of the commission's newly hired executive director, Joseph A. Gunn. When the other commissioners disavowed the memo, Perez said it had been written by Gunn and that its intent had been misunderstood.

Mader, department brass and some commissioners also clashed personally. Critics often described Mader as unnecessarily confrontational and not a team player. The quality of her work was assailed. Mader and her supporters questioned the timing of these complaints. No such criticisms were raised when police commissioners were using her reports to buttress their case against former Chief Willie L. Williams. Furthermore, an independent inspector general, by definition, is not a "team" player.

Officially, the political leadership of Los Angeles is committed to the implementation of the Christopher Commission recommendations on police reform. Employment of a full-time inspector general to audit the Police Department's internal disciplinary system for the part-time Police Commission is a keystone of the police-discipline recommendations. Why, then, more than seven years after the Christopher Commission folded its tent and moved on, is the inspector-general concept essentially back at square one?

Two mayors, the City Council and several different collections of police commissioners have failed to make this important concept a reality.

The current mayor, Richard Riordan, has publicly backed police reform, as did his predecessor, the late Tom Bradley. It is interesting to note, however, whom Riordan turns to for advice on police matters.

One of the mayor's earliest appointments to a deputy-mayor position, and still serving in that capacity, is William C. Violante, former president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union that represents the police rank and file. Despite voicing support for some police reforms, the League was, and is, critical of the Christopher Commission report, generally, and of the many recommendations dealing with officer misconduct and discipline, specifically.

More recently, retired police commander Gunn surfaced as a mayoral confidant and, as deputy mayor, was liaison between the mayor's office and the Police Commission. Gunn distinguished himself early in his police career when, as a patrolman, he exposed serious corruption among ranking members of his vice-enforcement detail. He was later wounded in an on-duty confrontation with a shotgun-wielding suspect. Gunn advanced rapidly through the ranks and became a favorite of then-Chief Ed Davis. As a commander, Gunn lobbied the City Council and state Legislature on behalf of the department and its chief. By most accounts, he was quite the lobbyist. Gunn left the department in 1979, soon after Davis retired.

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