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Release of LAPD shooting data lags

Reports on 200 firearm and other use-of-force cases have yet to appear on police panel website.

October 20, 2007|Richard Winton and Matt Lait | Times Staff Writers

Despite vowing to "provide greater transparency" on police shootings and other violent encounters, the Los Angeles Police Commission has failed to publicly release the details of nearly 200 confrontations involving LAPD officers.

After inquiries Friday from The Times, the commission scrambled to post more reports on its website and said it expects to place new ones online as early as next week.

Two years ago, the five-member civilian commission said it would post the accounts of such incidents on the website along with its rulings on whether the officers' use of force was within departmental policy.

But the commission has released information on only one of the more than 110 force incidents that occurred in 2006. Dozens of other reports from 2005 are also absent from the website. (No reports on the more than 90 incidents this year have been released, but the Los Angeles Police Department is still investigating many of those cases.)

"We've fallen behind here; that's regrettable," said commission President Anthony Pacheco. "Is it important? Absolutely. There's not a dispute here on how important these reports are. We need to do better."

Pacheco said he ordered the process "streamlined" to get the information out to the public quicker.

Without the commission's reports, the public receives scant, if any, details on police shootings and other use-of-force incidents. The commission promised to be more publicly forthcoming about such encounters two years ago, even as it voted to withhold the names of officers involved.

Commissioners said they overturned a 25-year-old policy of disclosing officers' names after the city attorney analyzed state laws and advised the panel that the disclosures violated officers' privacy rights.

Jeffrey C. Eglash, the commission's inspector general from 1999 to 2002, said Friday that he was concerned about the increasingly limited information released on force incidents and the delay in making such information public.

"This frustrates the long-sought-after goal of greater accountability and stronger oversight of the LAPD," he said.

Civil rights activist Najee Ali of Project Islamic Hope accused the commission of reneging on its pledges to be more open about police work.

"We know less today about these shootings than we did two years ago," he said. "This kind of action is going to increase distrust of the LAPD by the community."

Pacheco said the commission's desire to be more transparent with the public had "run up against our need for more resources." He said posting the reports was the job of the inspector general, who has been overwhelmed with audits and other duties, including reviewing the LAPD's investigation into the May 1 melee at MacArthur Park.

Before the withholding of names began, The Times used LAPD shooting reports to identify officers who repeatedly used deadly force, in some cases under questionable circumstances. A Times analysis of more than two decades' worth of shootings found that less than 1% of the officers in field assignments were involved in more than 20% of all shootings at suspects. One officer, for example, was involved in four shootings in five months.

Such examination of shootings is not possible with the information currently provided by the commission.

In addition to withholding the names of officers in the Web reports, commissioners have concealed the precise location of incidents and the divisions in which the officers worked, according to a Times review of the information. Reports released by the panel a couple of years ago contained those details.

Pacheco said information about the location and officers' assignments is now included if it is "pertinent to the incident."

As originally conceived by the commission, the posting of the reports was supposed to occur weekly. Commissioner John Mack, who at the time was the panel's president, said then that the effort was to increase public confidence in the department and the commission's oversight of it.

Although Pacheco said the release of the reports is an important public service, he added that the website does not generate a lot of Internet activity, or "hits."

Robert C.J. Parry, a public relations executive who occasionally writes opinion pieces about the LAPD, said he checks the website at least once a week to see if new reports are available.

Usually, he said, he is disappointed.

"As an interested observer, I like to keep track of the commissioners' decisions to see what their misjudgments have been," said Parry, who has accused the commission of making "political decisions" on shootings at the expense of officers' careers.

"The reports serve two purposes," he said. "They show us how officers on the street act, but they also allow us to make judgments about the Police Commission's decisions."

richard.winton@latimes.com

matt.lait@latimes.com

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