The Los Angeles Police Commission Tuesday broke with Police Chief Bernard C. Parks' justification of the fatal shooting of a homeless woman by an LAPD officer last year. In so doing, the commission showed that it would support its inspector general and stand up to the chief when warranted. It appears poised to give a tough review of the LAPD's internal investigation of the still-burgeoning Rampart Division scandal. Such independence was lacking on the previous commission, led by Edith Perez, which was criticized for seeming to rubber-stamp Parks' proposals and decisions.
Parks had found the shooting of Margaret Laverne Mitchell justifiable, though he acknowledged that the officers at the scene made serious errors in their encounter with the tiny, mentally ill woman, who was carrying a large screwdriver. Inspector General Jeffrey Eglash, who works for the commission, declared that the officer who fired the fatal shot had handled the situation so badly that the shooting violated LAPD policy. In a 3-2 vote, commission President Gerald L. Chaleff, Vice President T. Warren Jackson and member Dean Hansell agreed with Eglash.
That's encouraging, given that the LAPD's problems appear to go far beyond Rampart and may take years to unravel. Wednesday, Parks told the City Council that the department has problems "citywide," including deficient supervision well up the chain of command. To date, more than 70 LAPD officers are under investigation in a case that has uncovered evidence of unjustified police shootings, perjury, evidence planting and more. Deputy district attorneys close to the case predict that hundreds of convictions will have to be overturned.
Before Parks' Wednesday briefing, the City Council had already taken the proper step of promising Eglash and the Police Commission whatever resources they need to review the LAPD's investigation. Parks, for his part, took an important step in acknowledging what has seemed evident: that lack of command oversight allowed widespread, destructive misconduct to go on far too long.
Los Angeles doesn't need winners and losers in this case; it needs the truth. That's a message aimed in part at Mayor Richard Riordan, who backed Parks and criticized Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti this week and whose aides appeared to pressure the Police Commission to support Parks in the Mitchell case. The tools are falling into place for the kind of investigation the public deserves. The inquiry should proceed with vigilant oversight but a minimum of interference.