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LAPD Denies Missing Deadlines on Purpose

Deputy chief reacts to report that 96 officers avoided prosecution because department submitted material to the D.A. too late.

May 20, 2003|Steve Berry | Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles Police Department may have failed to meet legal deadlines in some cases of alleged police misconduct, a top police official said Monday, but the delays "were not caused by lack of desire to do the right thing or by an effort to protect officers."

Deputy Chief Mike Berkow, head of the LAPD's Professional Standards Bureau, said the delays were "caused by an effort to avoid any mistake or misstep."

Berkow was responding to disclosures in The Times that 96 officers allegedly involved in criminal misconduct ranging from minor offenses to drunk driving, misdemeanor assault and perjury avoided the possibility of criminal prosecution because the department submitted the cases to prosecutors after the statute of limitations had expired.

"We recognize and accept that some of the cases have been submitted to the D.A.'s office out of statute," beyond the legal time limits, Berkow said. "We are working now and have been working hard to correct that problem."

Although some cases may not have warranted prosecution even if submitted in time, the department's tardiness prevented prosecutors from considering the merits of the cases. All told, the officers were involved in 65 cases, most of which were misdemeanors.

No other law enforcement agency in the county has been as lax as the LAPD in meeting the statute of limitations. Prosecutors said they declined to prosecute only six other cases.

Berkow said the department is not showing any favoritism toward police officers.

He said Chief William J. Bratton has given him "clear marching orders: Investigate all allegations to the fullest extent possible and to prosecute misconduct as we find it regardless of where the chips may fall. There is no double standard, there is no hiding the ball."

Berkow, who noted that he just recently began working for the LAPD, said he has "observed a problem in the speed of dealing with and resolving cases."

But he argued that the LAPD submits more cases to the district attorney's office than any other police agency in the county. He said the LAPD policy exceeds standards outlined by the district attorney's office last year and has met the requirement for submitting police misconduct cases to prosecutors that are outlined in a federal consent decree. That decree was imposed on the LAPD after the Rampart Division scandal.

Berkow said that almost 37% of the complaints alleging police misconduct that the department submitted to prosecutors were brought to the LAPD after the statute of limitations had expired. Cases reviewed by The Times were brought to the department's attention before the statute of limitations had expired, according to prosecution and police records in those cases.

Berkow said the LAPD staff has met with the district attorney's staff to discuss "how we might better coordinate and ensure that appropriate cases are put before the district attorney in a timely manner."

Berkow described the problem as "historical," and said it happens "through a series of system problems, changes in policy, and, in some cases, investigative overload."

The Times analysis shows that the district attorney's Justice System Integrity Division rejected 345 LAPD cases from Jan. 1, 2001, to May 5, 2003, not counting cases from the Rampart scandal.

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