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Observers Outline LAPD Issues

Police: As the mayor prepares to name a new chief, the monitors say resistance to change is still a key problem.

September 30, 2002|TINA DAUNT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn chooses the next chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, he will send that man into an agency beset by issues as straightforward as rising crime and as persistent as a disciplinary system that officers dismiss as capricious and unfair.

In recent years, three civilian monitors have been sent to study the LAPD--Michael Cherkasky, who analyzes the department's compliance with a federal consent decree; Jeffrey Eglash, who serves as inspector general to the Police Commission; and Merrick Bobb, who has been tapped for special projects by the commission. All three have gained access to LAPD officers and records often denied to outsiders; as such, they have a more complete view than most civilians ever receive of the LAPD.

In interviews and in recent reports, the three have detailed a web of issues confronting the LAPD that will greet the department's next chief. Their comments go well beyond Hahn's concerns--the mayor has identified crime, community policing, compliance with federally mandated reforms, morale, recruitment and retention as the department's principal issues--and suggest that pockets of resistance to change within the LAPD will confront the new chief's efforts to turn around the department.

All three department watchdogs identify similar problems: The gang units are in disarray at a time when violence is skyrocketing; efforts to identify and track problem officers are bogged down in bureaucratic indecision; and dozens of court-mandated reforms are being dismissed by some officers as frivolous and unnecessary.

Those and other observations culled from the recent work of the civilian monitors lend credence to the conclusions of Hahn and his Police Commission that the LAPD is deeply troubled, not merely suffering from a temporary loss of leadership. They also underscore why Hahn and others have identified the selection of the next chief as the most important decision that Hahn will have made since taking office last year.

"There is a culture of the department that needs to be addressed by the new chief," Eglash said. "We want to see a department that is more open, that works well with other parts of government, that is more responsive to civilian leadership and is community-oriented."

But achieving reform will not be easy, Bobb said.

"The LAPD, to a large degree, is a broken and demoralized organization," said Bobb, who was a lawyer for the Christopher Commission, which recommended widespread changes in the LAPD after the 1991 Rodney King beating. "The next chief needs to reverse the long-standing culture at the top of the LAPD that has kept senior management insular, aloof, arrogant and uninterested or belittling of what anyone outside the LAPD thinks or does."

Department Grumbling

Hahn has been less specific in his charge for his new chief, but the mayor, who served for 16 years as city attorney before being elected to the city's top office in 2001, has repeatedly said that he sees the need to implement the requirements of the federal consent decree and the need to fight crime as consistent goals.

That is a notion that is privately disputed within some quarters of the LAPD, where officers have grumbled that so much attention is placed on rooting out problems in the department that it distracts from the mission of reducing crime.

"The mayor recognizes that we have to have leadership that does not see reform as independent but as a step toward improving public safety," said Deputy Mayor Matt Middlebrook, Hahn's spokesman. "They go hand in hand."

Hahn spent the weekend weighing whether to give the job to former New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton, former Philadelphia Police Commissioner John Timoney or Oxnard Police Chief Art Lopez.

Hahn said that in interviews last week the finalists outlined very different approaches to achieve his goals. He said all three are "outstanding" individuals--each possessing the skills necessary to address the department's problems.

Cherkasky, Bobb and Eglash echo Hahn's concerns that the department needs to do a better job of fighting crime and improving morale. In interviews and in their reports, all three also place great emphasis on the need to change the culture of the department.

Of the three department watchdogs, Bobb has been tracking the LAPD problems the longest. He was the deputy general counsel to a commission--headed by former U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher--that recommended sweeping reforms in 1991.

Since then, Bobb has worked on a number of specific projects for the department, including conducting a study on the department's progress five years after the Christopher Commission released its recommendations. His work at the LAPD and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department has helped create the field of civilian police monitoring, and Bobb now consults with agencies throughout the nation and even in some foreign countries.

'The Blue Curtain'

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