Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

A Dot of Light at the LAPD

November 02, 2002

Jeffrey C. Eglash spent 3 1/2 years shining a Mag-Lite into a shuttered and battened-down Los Angeles Police Department. As the civilian Police Commission's inspector general, his job was to scrutinize a department infamous for resisting oversight. In the end, the passion and integrity he brought to the task couldn't make up for the former chief's stonewalling and the lack of backup from a skittish and divided commission.

So it's no surprise, just a shame, that a weary Eglash announced last week that he planned to resign -- just as the LAPD may at last be about to raise the windows and fling open the doors. That at least appears to be the signal from newly installed Police Chief William J. Bratton, who through an emissary tried to persuade Eglash to stay. When that failed, a disappointed Bratton promised a "transparent" department that would cooperate with Eglash's successor.

Proof that civilian oversight can be made to work is as close as Los Angeles County. Around the time that the Christopher Commission, formed after the Rodney King beating, first called for independent overview of the LAPD, the county Board of Supervisors asked retired Superior Court Judge James Kolts to investigate excessive-force allegations within the Sheriff's Department. While the city dragged its feet on Christopher Commission recommendations, the supervisors followed up by hiring Merrick Bobb, who headed the Kolts Commission, to monitor reform, which he continues to do.

At the peak of the LAPD's Rampart corruption scandal, Sheriff Lee Baca asked the supervisors to expand oversight -- unheard of in law enforcement -- by creating an Office of Independent Review staffed by six full-time civil rights lawyers. In its first report, issued last month, the new watchdog team found that the Sheriff's Department had over the last decade failed to investigate more than 800 claims of wrongdoing by its deputies, ranging from reckless driving to improperly served search warrants. The supervisors got so caught up in demanding an explanation from Baca for the lapses that they missed the real import of the report: Exposing the problem has led the department to change its policy so that all claims will be automatically reviewed.

The report and its follow-up represent a shift in culture from the police code of silence to one more common to a 12-step program: Admitting problems is the first step toward solving them. "As embarrassing as they may be," Bobb says, "in the long run confronting them means less injury to the public and fewer lawsuits."

For civilian oversight to work, the office doing the overseeing must have unfettered access to the department, authority to protect the confidentiality of informants and freedom to issue unvarnished reports.

That approach appears to be taking hold in the Sheriff's Department and can become rooted in the LAPD too, if the new chief sets a tone of cooperation and openness and the new Police Commission holds him to it.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|