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LAPD to Seek a Ban on Officers Working as PIs

April 25, 2006|Peter Y. Hong | Times Staff Writer

Reversing a long-standing policy, the Los Angeles Police Department intends to prohibit officers from moonlighting as private investigators, officials said Monday.

LAPD Assistant Chief Sharon Papa told the City Council's Public Safety Committee that the department first must confer with the police officers union, but "it is the chief's intention to restrict them from working as private investigators."

Many police departments ban officers from working as private investigators because of potential conflicts with their police work. The LAPD has allowed the practice, but it came under scrutiny with the indictment of a former veteran officer in the ongoing prosecution of Anthony Pellicano, the so-called private investigator to the stars. Pellicano allegedly paid Mark Arneson, then an LAPD detective with his own private investigation business, to illegally obtain information from police databases.

Papa's statement before the council marked an apparent shift in Police Chief William J. Bratton's position. In February, Bratton had said only two LAPD officers worked as private investigators, and that the department closely monitored such work. But a Times review of state and local records turned up dozens of licensees on the LAPD payroll, probably more than 100, the department now believes.

Los Angeles Police Protective League President Robert E. Baker told the council committee that a ban could be problematic because some officers may have built businesses "that may be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. I don't know how you tell someone to divest," Baker said.

Merely obtaining a license does not mean an officer will violate department rules on matters such as accessing confidential police databases, or that he or she will even work as a private eye, he said.

Baker said he has had a license for more than 20 years but has never worked as a private investigator, although he at one time considered doing so after his retirement.

Councilman Bernard C. Parks, a former LAPD chief, said he opposes a ban. "I found people sell information not because they are PIs, but because they are dishonest," he said.

Papa said the LAPD also will strengthen its permitting process for outside work by officers. All permit decisions will be made by Cmdr. Kenneth Garner, the department's top personnel official, and a new form will specifically ask if an officer will be working as a private detective. The existing form "is not detailed enough and does not ask the right questions," Papa said.

Councilman Jack Weiss repeated an earlier pledge to seek a council ban if the department does not take action. "For several years, I was a prosecutor. I did not spend my time on weekends moonlighting for criminal defendants," he said.

The Los Angeles Police Commission also will discuss a ban.

"I have some serious, serious reservations about the practice," commission President John Mack said in an interview. "I think it should be prohibited."

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