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Exhibit A in the case for LAPD openness

A mistake that revealed the names and badge numbers of officers accused of racial profiling seems to undercut the argument that identifying cops accused of serious wrongdoing exposes them to danger.

February 10, 2009

For two years, this page has argued that the Los Angeles Police Department should return to its decades-old practice of releasing the names of officers accused of such serious wrongdoing that they are sent to boards of rights -- and that those board hearings should be, as they were under police chiefs from Ed Davis to Bernard C. Parks, open to the public. The department leadership has halfheartedly agreed but failed to act; the Police Protective League and its union allies in Sacramento have furiously objected and bullied those who favor legislation that would open those records and proceedings.

The objection has consistently been that to release such material would expose officers to danger -- their lives and families were at stake, opponents claimed. Then, on Friday, a curious thing happened: The LAPD or its Police Commission inadvertently posted online the names and badge numbers of hundreds of officers accused of racial profiling over the last year. This list was more than anything supporters of openness have requested. It included not just those officers charged with serious misconduct or facing suspensions, but every officer accused of every type of profiling. Predictably, the league shrieked and threatened a lawsuit, complaining that the release included "names and personal information" (never mind that a badge number hardly qualifies as "personal information" -- it does, after all, appear on the officer's uniform).

And then, nothing. No attacks on officers, no threats or repercussions. The "media" so fiercely viewed with suspicion by the league reported on the incident but declined to publish the list, precisely the type of conscientious discernment that the police union believes news organizations are incapable of. The dispositions of the cases were, admittedly, interesting to cluck over. It does seem curious that the LAPD investigated more than 900 complaints of racial profiling and "sustained" just three -- one of which was dismissed without penalty -- but the list doesn't invalidate those conclusions, it merely memorializes them. The report faded through the weekend news cycle and disappeared.

This is the threat of openness? That names and badge numbers of public officials will occasionally flicker before the public they serve? That a police department responsible for safety and security, yes, and also for occasional, destabilizing violence would reveal its work to those who pay for it? Doesn't sound too bad to us.

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