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LAPD Watchdog's Power Must Not Be Limited, Mayor Tells Panel

Police: In letter to commission, Riordan says he is troubled by reports that inspector general's access to misconduct complaints may be restricted.

October 29, 1998|MATT LAIT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Stepping into the debate between the Los Angeles Police Department's civilian watchdog and her Police Commission bosses, Mayor Richard Riordan has told the panel's president that he does not want the inspector general's access to LAPD misconduct complaints restricted.

In a letter to Police Commission President Edith Perez, the mayor said he was troubled by recent reports that new procedures laid out in a memo by Perez "constrained [the inspector general's] ability to oversee the [LAPD's] handling of complaints of misconduct by limiting her review to adjudicated complaints."

The mayor's letter, dated Monday, came after several police reform experts raised concerns that Perez had undermined the position of Inspector General Katherine Mader.

According to a Sept. 22 memo signed by Perez and addressed to Chief Bernard C. Parks, the inspector general's review of the LAPD's discipline was limited to "adjudicated complaints." Such a restriction is a departure from recommendations made by the blue-ribbon Christopher Commission in 1991, which urged the creation of a strong inspector general.

Specifically, the Christopher Commission recommended that the inspector general be responsible for "monitoring the progress of complaints through the [internal affairs] investigation process, and auditing the results of [those] investigations."

Moreover, Perez's action also appears to define the role of the inspector general more narrowly than was approved by voters in April 1995.

"I think it's watering down everything that we've worked for and I'm really baffled as to why Edith Perez would make this kind of suggestion," said Ramona Ripston, executive director of the Southern California chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. "I don't see how the commission could uphold this."

Several police commissioners have said they have no intention of restricting the authority of the inspector general. Perez has not publicly commented on her memo. However, Police Commission Executive Director Joe Gunn, who wrote the memo for Perez, said the redefinition of Mader's role does not diminish her authority.

Mader disputed Gunn's contention in a memo to him last week, saying that restricting her access to adjudicated complaints "would materially impact the day-to-day operations" of her office. Mader has declined to comment on the situation.

In his letter to Perez, the mayor said his understanding was that Perez's new "procedures are consistent with the actual practices of the inspector general." Riordan asked Perez to confirm that his "interpretation is correct and that you in no way intended to limit the work of the inspector general."

Deputy Mayor Noelia Rodriguez, the mayor's spokeswoman, expanded on Riordan's letter, saying, "The mayor's interpretation [of Mader's duties] is that there is access to complaint files before adjudication."

She added: "The rules of the game seemed to have been changed and the change might affect the ability of the inspector general to perform her duties. That's why the mayor is asking for clarification."

On Wednesday, City Councilwoman Laura Chick asked her colleagues to hold a hearing to determine whether the inspector general position is operating as envisioned by the Christopher Commission.

Chick, who is chairwoman of the city's public safety committee, has said she wants reassurances from the Police Department and the Police Commission that the "roles, responsibilities and authorities" of the inspector general have not been diminished. Police Commission officials said Wednesday that they were working on a public response to the controversy over Perez's memo.

Rodriguez said the mayor does not customarily get involved in the affairs of his independent city commissions or the actions of his appointees to those commissions.

"The mayor's office views independence with a capital I," said Rodriguez. "That is not limited to the inspector general but to the commission, as well."

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