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Police Plan to Shuffle Investigators

As part of a series of reforms, the department will double night and weekend detective shifts citywide and add 10 detectives to South L.A.

August 13, 2003|Andrew Blankstein and Jill Leovy | Times Staff Writers

Rolling out the first phase of a planned overhaul of its detective force, police leaders told the Los Angeles Police Commission on Tuesday that they would double the number of detectives deployed on nights and weekends by September.

Commissioners also were told that the department, which is reviewing the formula used to assign detectives throughout the city, will place 10 more detectives in South Los Angeles, the area with the highest homicide caseloads and backlogs.

Deputy LAPD Chief James McMurray told commissioners that the number of detectives assigned to off-hour shifts will increase from two to at least four in each of the city's 18 divisions, beginning Aug. 24.

And depending on individual needs, some divisions could be staffed with even more investigators on weekends and nights.

"We plan to put higher numbers assigned to night and weekend watches because we want to put our people where the crime is," McMurray said.

For years, the majority of the 1,500 LAPD detectives in the 9,200-member department have worked 9-to-5 weekday schedules.

When he arrived last year, LAPD Chief William J. Bratton told commanders that he wanted to increase efficiency of detectives and the number of arrests with a series of reforms proposed by department insiders and outside consultants.

Those changes include using teams to interrogate suspects in a way that is as geared to making arrests as it is to gathering intelligence.

Bratton also wants detectives to be more active, citing figures that show that detectives make up about 20% of the department but account for only 2% of total arrests.

One change involves getting detectives to crime scenes more quickly, not only to better respond to victims and interview key witnesses, but to free patrol officers who have been tied up at crime scenes while waiting for the primary investigators.

Police Union President Bob Baker said he generally supports Bratton's changes.

But he cautioned that the LAPD should move cautiously to ensure that the redeployment fits with the needs of individual divisions.

"One size doesn't fit all," he said, adding that some areas do not necessarily need heavy night deployments. "You can't use a cookie-cutter approach."

Baker also cautioned that some consolidation of detective functions now under consideration could lead to overloads for detective commanders.

After the report, Police Commission President David Cunningham III said he was pleased with the progress of reform.

"My overall goal is to reduce the number of unsolved homicides," Cunningham said.

"They are proceeding apace, and we will see some action," he added.

After the meeting, McMurray said there would be "more equilibrium" in caseloads across the city after the redeployment.

But McMurray, head of the LAPD's detective bureau, stopped short of promising that caseloads would be made equal, saying that other factors are being considered, such as the rate at which detectives solve cases.

Homicide detectives in South and Central Los Angeles have traditionally borne higher workloads than those elsewhere in the city.

Those are the areas where the most homicides occur, and the most unsolved cases are.

Last month, The Times reported that average caseloads for South Los Angeles detectives over the last 12 years have been nearly 30% higher than those of Valley and Westside detectives. Caseloads are 60% higher in the central city.

This year, the gap is growing. The problem has stemmed in the past from vast differences in levels of violent crime across the city.

McMurray said commanders have been told to pay more attention to caseloads in deciding how to use existing resources, including shifting detectives from other specialties into homicide.

Consolidation of some detective units also is expected to free up more investigators, who could then be assigned to homicides, he said.

In addition, at the request of the Police Commission, the department will reexamine its formula for doling out detectives across the city and will report back in October.

Cunningham said he wants to ensure that the formula adequately takes into account the buildup of unsolved homicides in areas hard-hit by violent crime.

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