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Police Meeting to Focus on Internal Issues

Under a federal grant, 13 departments will work on improving their handling of such problems as use of force and corruption.

September 23, 2003|Richard Winton | Times Staff Writer

With a $414,000 federal grant from the Department of Justice, 13 big-city police departments from across the country will gather in Los Angeles to develop better standards for handling internal affairs investigations, top Los Angeles police officials are expected to announce today.

Departments from New York, Boston, Chicago, Miami and Phoenix are among those that will send representatives to exchange ideas on dealing with such issues as use of force by officers, officer corruption and police misconduct allegations, said Deputy Chief Michael Berkow, new head of the Los Angeles Police Department's Bureau of Professional Standards.

"We need to develop the best way to investigate everything from a police shooting to a complaint from a prisoner," said Berkow, the former Irvine police chief who was brought in by LAPD Chief William J. Bratton to remake the department's internal affairs operation.

"There has been a lack of innovation in the internal affairs arena compared to other areas of law enforcement because of a failure to learn from others," Berkow said.

For too long, police departments have acted alone in developing their internal affairs policies to deal with such topics as surveillance, drug testing, racial profiling and misuse of national crime databases by officers, said Berkow, who once worked with a Department of Justice program to train foreign police officers.

In a letter applying for the federal grant, Bratton wrote that, as head of six departments during his career, he has been surprised at the lack of innovation in internal affairs.

"Every chief spends a considerable amount of time on the problem," he wrote. "Every big city has a history of problematic incidents, and most communities have concerns over the process used by their respective department to investigate and manage police misconduct allegations.

"In fact, as chief, I have to constantly remind myself to manage for the 95%, not the 5% that are constantly in trouble, constantly creating bad headlines and undermining the trust of the community."

The LAPD would play host to the meetings, which have yet to be scheduled. Policy developed at the forums could directly affect about 100,000 officers nationwide in the 13 departments, LAPD officials said.

The federal grant would establish a teleconference link among all 13 departments' internal affairs bureaus that could also be used to deal with such other aspects of the police work as counterterrorism and national security.

"This technology has been used by the military worldwide for years," Berkow said. "The policing world is lagging behind."

John Buchanan, assistant chief of the nearly 3,000-member Phoenix Police Department, said that, like medical professionals, internal affairs investigators could learn from one another: "There are roads others have traveled," he said. "You can save yourself extra work and avoid mistakes. This is ultimately a tool to develop the best practices."

In the last 15 years, the LAPD's reputation has been affected by its internal handling of the police beating of Rodney G. King in 1991 and the Rampart scandal in the late 1990s in which officers stole drugs, fabricated evidence and framed suspects.

When Bratton was appointed chief, he was charged with implementing a federal consent decree that established an independent monitor of the LAPD and required greater management oversight.

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