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L.A. Police Commission Names Insider to Inspector General Post

May 14, 2003|Richard Winton | Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles Police Commission on Tuesday appointed Andre Birotte Jr. inspector general, the central post in providing civilian oversight of the Los Angeles Police Department.

Birotte, 36, a lawyer, has been acting inspector general since Jeffrey C. Eglash resigned in December after playing a prominent role in the Rampart police corruption investigation.

Birotte was the only candidate among the six finalists from within the office, which he joined two years ago as assistant inspector general.

"Andre is a sharp investigator with a vast amount of experience," Commission President Rick Caruso said. "His knowledge of the law and analytical skills are a perfect match for the job of inspector general."

Birotte, a former federal prosecutor, said he believes his experience means he will be able to build a meaningful partnership between the commission, the inspector general's office and Police Chief William J. Bratton.

"The best way to make change is through collaboration," Birotte said.

Eglash, who significantly strengthened the role, praised the choice of his successor.

"He'll be an outstanding inspector general. He understands the importance of civilian oversight," Eglash said. "He has the advantage of being familiar with the issues and personalities. He has a real good breadth of knowledge as a former public defender, an effective federal prosecutor and an attorney in private practice."

First proposed in the early 1990s by the Christopher Commission, the position of inspector general has evolved into the eyes and ears of the Police Commission, monitoring reforms in general including complaints of officer misconduct.

Birotte's predecessors have often found themselves at odds with the LAPD brass. Bernard C. Parks, the former police chief who is now a city councilman, refused to talk to Eglash or shake his hand at meetings. Katherine Mader, now a judge, resigned from the position in 1998 after disputes with Parks over her authority.

"The infighting that was representative of years past is long gone," Caruso insisted Tuesday. "We're all working as a team."

The son of Haitian immigrants, Birotte said he grew up in New Jersey before graduating from Tufts University and Pepperdine University School of Law.

Birotte began his legal career as a public defender in Los Angeles. He joined the United States attorney's office prosecuting frauds, bank robberies and narcotics trafficking cases. He said he also spent about a year practicing commercial law.

The recording secretary for the John M. Langston Bar Assn., Birotte becomes the first minority to hold the civilian oversight position. His co-workers, who packed the commission meeting room, cheered his selection.

The choice was also popular with his former colleagues. "I learned to respect him as an attorney of the highest intelligence who is aggressive, fair and independent," said Councilman Jack Weiss, who served with Birotte as a federal prosecutor. "I am confident he will bring those qualities to bear in his new position."

Weiss said Birotte's appointment provides the opportunity to make changes to ensure the inspector general's office becomes even more effective in providing civilian oversight.

"I would like to see the office operate more like the L.A. County Sheriff's office of independent review, and provide regular, independent updates to the council's Public Safety Committee," Weiss said.

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