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Too much disclosure

It's hard to see how combing through LAPD officers' finances would be a useful tool for fighting corruption.

December 20, 2007

The Los Angeles Police Department recently entered its eighth year under a federal consent decree that imposes strict mandates on operations and record keeping. The LAPD has modernized its procedures to root out corruption and purge from its ranks a Rampart-era culture of excessive force and false arrest. Full compliance with the decree is within reach, and it is tempting to urge the Police Commission to finish the job today by completing one final piece -- requiring full disclosure of personal and family finances by those officers in specialized units who in theory could be bribed because of greed or financial distress.

There's nothing outrageous about demanding that some members of the nation's preeminent local law enforcement organization make the same kind of reports required of FBI and other federal agents. And the Los Angeles Police Protective League, which adamantly opposes the requirement, only hurts its cause with its bullying claim that hundreds of officers would rather leave the department than let administrators know how much money they have in the checking account or how much they owe on the vacation condo. The union's knee-jerk rejection of financial disclosure is part of an unfortunate tradition of opposing disclosure of any kind. Union pressure already has helped strip the public of crucial oversight it long had, such as access to use-of-force reports and open discipline hearings.

And yet. It's hard to see how periodic financial reports would help LAPD brass nail corrupt cops. Officers already must submit to lie detector tests, and they now work in an environment in which stings are all but routine. Financial disclosure would do nothing to allow the public to monitor the kinds of corruption and excessive force that led to the Rampart scandal -- or the kind of management and training failures that produced this year's MacArthur Park fiasco.

The Police Commission has long been in need of the sort of backbone it lacked when the union pushed it to close the truly crucial records of officer misconduct. It would be ironic if the commissioners suddenly found the nerve to stand up to the union on this superfluous requirement.

The judge overseeing implementation of the consent decree already rejected a compromise offered by the LAPD and the union, but the panel could call on the U.S. Department of Justice to revisit the requirement or, at least, seek an early sunset date from the court. Los Angeles has a citizen commission that should be able to distinguish between simply checking off a box on the consent decree and requiring disclosure because it's truly useful.

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