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More Powerful Watchdog for LAPD Urged

Responding to report of missed deadlines, two council members seek inspector general's full participation in police misconduct inquiries.

May 21, 2003|Steve Berry | Times Staff Writer

Two members of the Los Angeles City Council called Tuesday for strengthening civilian oversight of the Police Department by increasing the power of the inspector general's office.

"Civilian oversight is crucial to the future success of the Los Angeles Police Department," said Councilman Jack Weiss. "The protection of civil rights, examination of criminal allegations against officers and the integrity of the department will all be strengthened if the inspector general is given the opportunity to fully participate in investigations."

Weiss and Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski, who is chairwoman of the Public Safety Committee, introduced a motion to create a working group to make proposals authorizing the inspector general to participate in police misconduct investigations.

Weiss said reforms are needed to prevent officers allegedly involved in criminal misconduct from avoiding possible prosecution because the department submits the cases to prosecutors after the statute of limitations has expired.

The Times disclosed Monday that cases involving 96 officers had been submitted to prosecutors after the legal time limit had expired.

"The allegations in the article underscored the need to get the process of reform started and completed," Weiss said.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department has avoided similar problems largely because attorneys in its Office of Independent Review "participate from the outset in investigations concerning misconduct allegations," he said.

In contrast, the city inspector general's office is typically "required to wait for the conclusion of an LAPD internal investigation before commencing work," Weiss added.

Mike Gennaco, who directs the sheriff's Office of Independent Review, said, "We track all investigations, talk with the investigator about the investigative plan, and we review the investigative package to ensure that they are properly referred to the district attorney."

The working group proposed by Weiss and Miscikowski would comprise representatives of the City Council, Police Commission, LAPD, city attorney's office and the mayor, as well as police reform experts.

Weiss said the inspector general should be required to report to the City Council as well as to the Police Commission.

That proposal has caused some controversy in the past, because the inspector general's office is an arm of the commission.

Commission President Rick Caruso weighed in against that idea on Tuesday.

The inspector general "is the eyes and ears of the commission," Caruso said. "I would be concerned about a reporting requirement to a group of people outside the Police Commission."

Newly appointed Inspector General Andre Birotte declined to comment.

His predecessor, Jeffrey Eglash, endorsed the proposal.

"I support council members Weiss and Miscikowski's continuing efforts to strengthen the Office of Inspector General," he said. "It currently provides strong and effective oversight, but more can be done."

The change would require more resources and "the acceptance by others involved in governing the LAPD, such as the [police] command staff, the Police Commission and other components of city government," Eglash said.

The City Council's Public Safety Committee will consider the proposal in about three weeks.

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