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LAPD Condemned by Its Own Inquiry Into Rampart Scandal

THE RAMPART SCANDAL

Police: Breakdowns that allowed corruption are still uncorrected, study finds. The chief concedes that mediocrity became a way of life at all levels of the department.

March 01, 2000|JIM NEWTON and MATT LAIT and SCOTT GLOVER | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The Los Angeles Police Department failed time and again to take steps that might have headed off the worst corruption scandal in its history, according to a sweeping self-indictment prepared by the department's own leaders.

In a letter accompanying the long-awaited Board of Inquiry report into the corruption centered in the department's Rampart Division, which will be released today, Police Chief Bernard C. Parks called the scandal a "life-altering experience for the Los Angeles Police Department" in which corrupt officers took advantage of lax supervision to carry out criminal acts.

"We as an organization provided the opportunity," Parks wrote.

The 362-page report was given to Mayor Richard Riordan and members of the Police Commission on Tuesday evening and will be released to the public and the rest of the city's elected leaders today. It was provided to The Times on Tuesday by top officials of the LAPD.

According to the report, many of the breakdowns that allowed the Rampart police scandal to fester and spread--including failures to check the backgrounds of police recruits, to monitor officer misconduct and to supervise officers in the field--remain uncorrected despite mounting public and political criticism of the LAPD and the city leadership.

Those disclosures effectively put the city's entire political leadership on the spot. Most directly, they demonstrate that the LAPD ignored some calls for reform and created an atmosphere ripe for corruption. At the same time, they also suggest that Riordan and City Council members backed policies that eroded the Police Department's ability to control wayward officers.

The results, by the LAPD's own admission, have been costly--and tragic.

"This scandal has devastated our relationship with the public we serve and threatened the integrity of our entire criminal justice system," the Board of Inquiry report concludes. "Distrust, cynicism, fear of the police, and an erosion of community law and order are the inevitable result of a law enforcement agency whose ethics and integrity have become suspect."

While the report admits breakdowns at every level of the department--and in the process sketching a broader, more damning picture even than the 1991 Christopher Commission did in the wake of the Rodney G. King beating--its 108 recommendations essentially focus on internal remedies. A number highlight ways to strengthen the police chief's power to investigate, discipline and even force the retirement of officers. They pointedly do not endorse creation of outside systems for subjecting the LAPD to additional scrutiny.

Unlike the Christopher Commission, which subtly but unmistakably called on Chief Daryl F. Gates to retire, the Board of Inquiry is generally, and not surprisingly, complimentary of moves by Parks, who supervises the members of the board and has repeatedly pledged to root out corruption in the department.

Parks' own role in the events at issue is somewhat blurred: Although he was named chief after the incidents at the center of the Rampart probe occurred, he served as the LAPD's second-ranking official from 1992 to 1994. He was demoted that year and put in charge of special investigations, including internal affairs, but from that point on, he was kept at arm's length from many department decisions by then-Chief Willie L. Williams.

Parks Takes Share of Blame

In an interview Tuesday, Parks said he shared in the departmentwide blame for Rampart.

"I don't think anybody who's been at this department for any length of time can say: 'I've done a good job with this,' " he said. "And that's including me."

The LAPD's scathing self-appraisal could bolster both sides of the argument over whether outside review of the department is needed: On one hand, the report says the problems it documents are widespread and serious; on the other hand, the city's police leadership is demonstrating unprecedented candor in publicly admitting those flaws.

In fact, the LAPD's analysis of itself cites area after area in which police officers and their supervisors failed the department and the public.

A few examples from the report:

* "A breakdown in front-line supervision was certainly apparent in Rampart."

* "Time and again, the board found clear patterns of misconduct that went undetected. . . . Regardless of the source, complainants all seemed to be viewed as recalcitrant, and their allegations were not taken seriously."

* "People are making personnel and promotional decisions unaware of matters that certainly would affect their decisions."

* "Our personnel evaluations have little or no credibility at any level in the organization."

* "The command team at Rampart during most of this five-year period lacked cohesive direction."

* "As painful as it may be, we must recognize that this problem [failure to perform adequate background investigations on new hires] has not been solved, but it must be if we are to provide the people of this city with the quality of law enforcement it deserves."

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