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Police Union, Chief Agree to Overhaul Complaint Process

The accord, which must be approved by Police Commission, scraps controversial system imposed by Bernard C. Parks.

November 07, 2002|Richard Winton and Andrew Blankstein | Times Staff Writers

The Los Angeles police union and Chief William J. Bratton announced Wednesday that they have agreed to overhaul the police complaint system that has been the subject of controversy and consternation among police officers for years.

The agreement, which will become official with a special order from Bratton, calls for a new system designed to address minor complaints quickly while ensuring that they are properly tracked and dealt with, say union and LAPD officials.

The policy adopts changes proposed by the Los Angeles Police Commission and Mayor James K. Hahn's office in June. It requires the commission's final approval.

The agreement allows complaints that supervisors deem minor to be addressed through dispute resolution rather than formal investigation.

"It's a positive step," said Cmdr. Jim McDonnell, who is heading Bratton's transition team. "It allows for a more reasonable [discipline] standard without compromising accountability, and it sends a positive message to both the officers and the community."

Instituted in 1998 by Chief Bernard C. Parks, the department's complaint process has drawn criticism from rank-and-file officers and union officials, who have charged that the disciplinary system seriously damaged morale by treating frivolous claims on a par with corruption.

Union officials cited several instances, including investigations of a desk officer who told a woman who complained that laser beams were piercing her brain to turn them off.

Under the new system, LAPD officials can apply their judgment to such cases, steering them into mediation rather than a formal investigation and possible board of rights hearing.

"Under the old system, a serious allegation of racism, brutality or discrimination was handled the same way as a minor allegation such as an officer's speaking in the wrong tone of voice or [with an] attitude," said union general counsel Hank Hernandez.

"With the new process, minor complaints are dealt with in a nondisciplinary form," Hernandez said.

Those complaints would be formalized and tracked, Hernandez said.

It also allows the person filing a complaint to discuss it with the officer face to face in the presence of a mediator.

The reform process began during the tenure of interim Chief Martin Pomeroy.

The acting chief, who replaced Parks in April, began dealing with a backlog of disciplinary complaints.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday agreed to lift a hiring freeze on top positions within the LAPD, clearing the way for Bratton to begin appointing his own management team.

The motion allows Bratton to appoint an assistant chief, two deputy chiefs, two commanders, six captains and several civilian police administrators.

Bratton is seeking to replace Assistant Chief David Gascon, who retired last week, and to fill several impending vacancies. Assistant Chief J.I. Davis and Deputy Chief Willie Pannell are expected to retire at the end of the year.

"We're giving to the chief of police the opportunity to select those people who are going to put together the task of revitalizing the Los Angeles Police Department," said Councilman Tom LaBonge. But Councilman Nate Holden, who voted against the motion, said it gives Bratton the power to drive out those who ran the department under Parks and would hurt officers' morale.

"These are loyal, dedicated police officers ... who have been working for this department for many, many years," he said. Other council members said the intent was not to force anyone out.

"There is no one being asked to leave by this motion," said Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski.

"All we're doing is giving latitude to the chief to look at this command staff and make some appointments," she said.

McDonnell said all the positions are either open or will be with planned retirements.

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