Assistant U.S. Atty. Jeffrey C. Eglash, a prosecutor specializing in public corruption and government fraud cases, was selected Friday by the Los Angeles Police Commission as its next inspector general.
Eglash, 38, brings a strong investigative and prosecutorial background to the civilian watchdog position, commissioners said.
In announcing the selection, panel President Edith Perez said Eglash, who helped prosecute one of the largest police corruption cases in Southern California, has "impeccable integrity" and a "passion for public service."
During a news conference, Eglash said the position is a "critical one for maintaining and enhancing the public's confidence in and approval of the LAPD."
The selection of Eglash, which was praised by many department observers, wraps up a five-month nationwide search to fill a job that many police reformers consider vital to strong civilian oversight of the LAPD.
Eglash, a graduate of Boalt Hall School of Law at UC Berkeley, was unanimously selected during a closed-door meeting from a list of three finalists that included Assistant U.S. Atty. Gregory W. Jessner and Palo Alto attorney Robert Aaronson. Eglash is scheduled to start in mid-July.
"He is a terrific choice. Courageous and ethical," said Laurie Levenson, associate dean of Loyola Law School, who worked with Eglash in the U.S. attorney's office. "He's a mature guy who's able to give perspective to cases and he doesn't have his own agenda. He's also the type of even-keeled person who works well under pressure and that is a high-pressure job."
By hiring a new inspector general, the five-member Police Commission seeks to move beyond the controversy it landed in last year with its first watchdog, Katherine Mader.
Although Mader was well-regarded among police reformers, she clashed with her commission bosses and LAPD officials, including Chief Bernard C. Parks. She resigned in January under pressure from the commission. Mader charged that the commission undermined the authority and powers of her office. The panel's executive director claimed that her work was substandard.
The contention between Mader and the commission sparked considerable concern among community activists, who feared that the position was not being properly utilized by the panel. The controversy escalated and, at one point, it was discovered that Perez had been sending anonymous mailings to prominent activists in the city, which many recipients construed as an attempt to tarnish Mader's reputation and enhance the commission's.
In December, a City Council hearing was held on strengthening the inspector general's role. Two charter reform committees have recommended in their June 8 ballot measure that the inspector general be given more autonomy.
Since Mader's departure, the commissioners have sought to assure community activists that they are committed to the position of inspector general, issuing several declarations supporting the independence and authority of the position, which was proposed by the 1991 Christopher Commission.
On Friday, however, Perez pointedly stated that the inspector is not totally independent and anybody who fills the post needs to "understand the difference between being independent of the department but not independent of the Police Commission."
And in an apparent slap at Mader, Perez said that "there is no room for error or ambiguity in the work product, as the public must have confidence in the audits and reports of the inspector general."
Eglash said he believes that the commission is committed to having a strong inspector general, but he said the 3-year-old position is still being defined.
"The job is still somewhat in its infancy and its parameters and responsibilities still need to be fleshed out," he said.
Known by some friends and colleagues as a cautious and tight-lipped person, Eglash said he wants to establish a good working relationship with the LAPD's employees.
"One point that cannot be overemphasized is this," Eglash said. "The inspector general's office and the Police Department can and should work together toward a common goal of building public confidence in a Police Department that is seen as fair, humane and responsive to the public it serves."
Commissioners are counting on Eglash's investigative skills to help him probe problems inside the Byzantine and insular LAPD. By most accounts, the inspector general position is a tough job that requires a great deal of political and institutional savvy to achieve results.
Asked if he believes he has the skills to be successful, Eglash replied: "Only time will tell."
He said he plans to meet people from the LAPD, Police Commission and community before he determines what issues he should tackle.