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Just Nailing Bad Apples Won't Do

April 03, 2001

Another rogue policeman breaks the code of silence, copping a plea to charges stemming from Los Angeles' Rampart Division scandal. Nino Durden will get a break on how much time he must serve, but his sentence will be stiffer than that of his former partner, Rafael Perez, who was the first to name names. The only way the Police Department and the district attorney's office can maintain credibility is to aggressively seek criminal prosecution of those officers who beat, framed and even shot unarmed suspects and then lied about it.

However, police corruption cases are always messy, and the Rampart scandal is a textbook example. Durden is no good cop fingering bad guys in the department. Self-interest motivates his cooperation with authorities. But he will do more time than Perez. That fact should not be lost on other officers who could be charged with offenses coming out of Rampart or any other misconduct. Cops who think they are in the bull's-eye should come forward or risk getting much harsher sentences for much lesser offenses.

The statements by both Durden and Perez raise questions as they implicate each other and other officers. How believable are the former policemen, who by their own admission have lied on police reports, to LAPD investigators and in court under oath?

Are they really the "big fish" in this scandal? Did the command condone their street-justice tactics with a "don't ask, don't tell" mentality? Federal and local prosecutors also need to probe an overly aggressive police culture that seemed to encourage using any means to get the job done.

Getting to the bottom of the problems within the LAPD will require top leadership that recognizes Rampart is not an isolated incident limited to a few bad apples. Police Chief Bernard C. Parks, a hard-core disciplinarian, has indicated with words and actions, including the firing of more than 130 officers, that he will not tolerate bad cops. He should end his insistence on reform only on his own terms, however, and work to change a culture that too often retaliates against honest cops. Good officers who are willing to put honor above a code of silence and talk without the threat of prison hanging over their heads should be rewarded, not shunned. Bad cops like Durden and Perez should be purged from the force and put away for a very long time. But systemic reform is what matters most.

Systemic and enduring reform of the LAPD will require the strong civilian oversight promised by full implementation of the Christopher Commission recommendations and the federal consent decree, which requires an outside monitor. That monitor should have been named a month ago. The selection process must not be allowed to drag on. The city and its hard-working officers deserve better.

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