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Officers' finances may be scrutinized

Proposal would cover LAPD's anti-gang and narcotics unit members.

December 19, 2007|Joel Rubin | Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles Police Commission is seeking to require officers who frequently handle drugs, cash and other contraband to submit detailed reports about their income and debts -- a proposal that has drawn fierce opposition from the rank and file.

The proposed plan, a copy of which was obtained by The Times, is intended to help supervisors monitor for signs that an officer is involved in illegal conduct. The five-member civilian panel is scheduled to vote on the proposal Thursday at a special meeting.

The disclosure requirement, which would cover about 600 officers working mostly in anti-gang and narcotics units, has proved to be one of the most problematic provisions of a federal consent decree to implement. The decree, agreed to by the city in the wake of a scandal in the late 1990s involving misconduct by anti-gang officers at the Rampart Division, mandates numerous reforms at the Los Angeles Police Department.

While federal agencies require similar disclosures for some of their agents, LAPD union officials said they were unaware of any other police department in the country adopting a policy similar to the one being considered by the commission.

Because it will be discussed in secret, commission President Anthony Pacheco declined to comment further on the proposal, other than to acknowledge that the issue has been "complicated."

For years, commission members, department officials and leaders of the Los Angeles Police Protective League -- the union representing some 9,000 officers -- have been at loggerheads over the idea. Union officials have resisted, arguing that a blanket requirement for all officers in the units would do little to combat corruption and would invade their privacy.

But Assistant Chief Sharon Papa said, "It is a final piece of the puzzle that we have not yet implemented. We need to move forward on this issue if we are ever going to be in compliance" with the decree.

Papa declined to say whether Chief William J. Bratton, who is on vacation, supported the proposal.

Last year, Bratton sided with officers, calling financial disclosures an "incredible burden." He said he would have been satisfied with a compromise plan devised by the union and department officials that was thrown out by the federal judge overseeing the consent decree for not being strict enough.

A new round of negotiations on the proposal recently broke down over whether officers currently assigned to the units would be exempt from the disclosure, according to Tim Sands, president of the officers union.

"The formula to prevent corruption is simple -- robust supervision, recruiting and retaining honest cops," Sands wrote in a prepared statement. "We need to have a strong recruiting program that attracts the best officer candidates and not one that requires those officers to have to choose to subject themselves to personal financial risks."

In a letter to union members this week, Sands called on officers currently on the gang and narcotics assignments to demand transfers and urged interested officers not to apply for the posts if the policy is accepted. Informal surveys by the union indicated that up to 500 officers -- largely younger ones in gang units -- would request transfers, officials said.

The proposal under review by the commission would give officers currently in such units a two-year grace period before having to turn over their financial information. The plan calls for officers to disclose outside income, real estate, stocks and other assets, and debts. They would also have to report the size of any bank accounts. The disclosures would apply to any financial holdings they share with family members.

The scope goes beyond what Bratton and other high-ranking officials must disclose to the city's Ethics Commission in annual financial interest reports.

Several detectives and other officers, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation from commanding officers, said they would sooner request transfers from their units than agree to the disclosures. They doubted the policy would do any good and had little faith in the department's ability to keep the information private.

"As far as dirty coppers who are taking money go, they don't put it in bank accounts for anyone to track," said a detective who works on a gang detail in the San Fernando Valley. "And this department does not have a very good history of keeping this kind of stuff sealed up. Any smart lawyer who is suing an officer is going to try to get his hands on it and try to use it against us."

Papa said the department would not grant hundreds of transfer requests if they would disrupt ongoing work to counter gangs and drug trafficking.

"We would never allow the department to be thrown into chaos," she said.

She declined to discuss details of the disclosure plan.

"Whether this is a perfect plan or not will be up to the commission to decide. You can debate it back and forth," she said.

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joel.rubin@latimes.com

Times staff writer Richard Winton contributed to this report.

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