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Commentary | PERSPECTIVES ON THE LAPD

'Our Failure . . . Created the Opportunity for Cancer to Grow'

If good cops go bad--for whatever reason--they must be rooted out and dealt with quickly.

March 01, 2000|BERNARD C. PARKS | Bernard C. Parks is chief of the Los Angeles Police Department

May it never happen again.

That has been the mantra over the past five months for me and for the 300 officers and experts who have worked on the Rampart Board of Inquiry corruption investigation.

The men and women who chose to involve themselves in the illegal acts perpetrated by certain officers in the Rampart Division will be dealt with. But we as an organization must recognize that, while those rogue cops individually and collectively betrayed our trust, we provided the opportunity for them to do so.

Our failure to carefully review reports, to examine events closely to identify patterns and to provide effective oversight and auditing created the opportunity for this cancer to develop and grow.

The Los Angeles Police Department needs to fix itself so that the system will work, so that if good cops go bad--for whatever reason--they will be rooted out and dealt with quickly.

How do we go about fixing the system?

As the Board of Inquiry report being formally released today points out in graphic detail, people with troubling backgrounds have been hired as police officers. We need to tighten up that hiring process. Individuals with criminal records or with histories of violent behavior or narcotics involvement have no place in this department.

We need to make sure that field officers are supervised closely and that supervisors have the courage to take corrective action when necessary. I recognize there is a fine line between smothering officers under a stifling bureaucratic blanket and beefing up supervision. The Board of Inquiry report tells us how to walk that fine line and how to do it effectively.

We need to make sure specialized entities like the anti-gang CRASH unit are home to senior, seasoned officers as well as relative newcomers. We need to make sure they are not run as independent fiefdoms but as responsive law enforcement programs.

Do entities like CRASH have hellishly difficult, often life-threatening missions to perform? Absolutely. Can they change the rules with abandon to suit their short-term purposes? Absolutely not.

It was precisely two years ago that events in Rampart started to unravel. That is when we discovered the evidence of corrupt behavior. A short time later, I formed special audit and criminal task forces to investigate some highly unusual and quite disturbing incidents. Recently, I asked the state attorney general and federal authorities to join the criminal task force to work with us in fully detecting and removing the cancer that had infiltrated Rampart in the mid-'90s. Last September, in a separate action, I convened the Board of Inquiry. We have been aggressively pursuing a critical self-analysis ever since.

With the Board of Inquiry report, we now have a blueprint for corrective action that examines and analyzes the management aspects of the incident. A second report discussing the exact nature and disposition of each allegation against each individual will be issued after the Rampart Criminal Task Force has completed its investigation, in about a year.

We cannot wait that long, however, to instill a true standard of excellence throughout the department. We have to start now. As the members of the Board of Inquiry have emphasized, we do not need to reinvent the wheel, introduce a flock of new programs or institute revolutionary approaches to police work. What we do need to do is emphasize a scrupulous adherence to existing policies and standards. We must enhance our ability to detect any individual or collective pattern of performance that falters. We must have the courage to deal with those who are responsible for failures.

If we do not do all those things, another Rampart will surely occur.

The mission of preventing another Rampart has to start at the top. No one realizes this more clearly than I do. Along with the command staff of the LAPD, I will take whatever time that is necessary to visit every police station, every LAPD roll call and every work station in this vast city. "Face time" with every member of this 13,000-member force is mandatory.

The vast majority of these men and women are smart, hard working, honest. What they are hearing from me now is that mediocrity will not be tolerated. Mediocrity leads to messed-up morals. Mediocrity leads to a mind-set in which the ends justify the means. Mediocrity leads to a shameful state of affairs in which good people do not necessarily turn bad, but they do tolerate unprofessional--sometimes even illegal--behavior.

As I read the Board of Inquiry report's blunt assessment of the effect this incident has had on our city and its citizens--statements such as, "The scandal has devastated our relationship with the public we serve and threatened the integrity of the entire criminal justice system"--I am reminded of something Benjamin Disraeli, the great British prime minister, wrote 175 years ago: "All power is trust, and we are accountable for its exercise."

That, too, is my mantra during these difficult days.

You, the citizens of this great city, have invested us police officers with trust. Some have abused that trust. I apologize on behalf of my entire organization.

We must make sure that never happens again.

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