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LAPD's Rotten Apples Remain

November 11, 2001|ERWIN CHEMERINSKY | Erwin Chemerinsky, a constitutional law professor at USC, conducted an independent review of the LAPD Board of Inquiry's report on the Rampart scandal for the Police Protective League

Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley's announcement last week that his office is about to conclude its Rampart Division investigation confirms what many have long suspected: The city never will learn the extent of corruption in the Los Angeles Police Department.

Hardly any of the officers who abused their badge and violated the law will be brought to justice. Calling it a cover-up is harsh, but that's exactly what's gone on since the scandal was exposed.

Some basic questions that never have been answered--and now never will be--include: How many officers in the division were directly involved or complicit by their silence? How high in the department was there knowledge of the corruption? To what extent was there similar corruption in other other divisions?

I have no doubt that there is far more corruption than has come to light and that many more officers were engaged in illegal activities than the few who have been prosecuted.

A year ago, I spoke with dozens of police officers in preparing a report at the request of the Police Protective League. Some of the officers told me shocking things--which have never been made public--about what occurred in the Rampart Division and elsewhere. Repeatedly, officers said they could not come forward because they feared losing their badge for not having spoken up earlier. Several said they worried about reprisals from other officers. Just this summer, an officer appeared in my office with a story of corruption in his precinct and asked me whom he could speak to with a promise of anonymity and immunity. Unfortunately, there was no one with the power to grant this.

Why don't we know the extent of the Rampart scandal?

First, no independent commission with subpoena power and the authority to grant immunity ever was created. Police Chief Bernard C. Parks and former Mayor Richard Riordan blocked such a commission.

Initially, they handed the investigation to the LAPD's own Board of Inquiry. The board's report was clearly a management account of the scandal, blaming it on "mediocrity" and a few bad officers.

When the inadequacies in the Board of Inquiry report were revealed, there were new pressures for an independent commission. Instead, the Police Commission created its own study panel. Although that group prepared an excellent report, it was a series of policy recommendations, not a factual inquiry into what happened.

Second, the district attorney's office never was given the essential powers to effectively investigate corruption in the LAPD. Former Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti told me early on that it would be impossible for his office to learn much unless it could grant officers immunity. Parks absolutely refused to accord such immunity.

The result is that remarkably little more is known about the Rampart scandal than what former police officer Rafael Perez told investigators at the outset of the probe. Few officers have been prosecuted. The only major trial ended in convictions that were overturned and are now on appeal.

This will make it easy for the LAPD's cheerleaders to say the Rampart scandal was exaggerated. It makes it easy for the city to declare victory over the problems in the Police Department and the criminal justice system.

Yet, when it comes to corruption in the LAPD, ignorance is not bliss. Officers have gotten away with breaching the public trust by planting evidence on innocent people and lying about it.

I certainly don't believe that officials like Chief Parks, former Mayor Riordan or City Council members intended a cover-up. But if they had planned one, they couldn't have done a better job.

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