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Problems found with some LAPD probes of officers' alleged bias

The inspector general says errors were made in a third of the cases sampled. Two officials say the effect of new guidelines for such investigations may not have been reflected yet.

November 11, 2009|Joel Rubin

An independent examination of how the Los Angeles Police Department investigates officers accused of profiling people based on race, gender or sexual orientation found serious problems with a third of the sampled investigations, the inspector general for the L.A. Police Commission reported Tuesday.

In six of 20 LAPD investigations into allegations of "biased policing" -- the department's new name for what has traditionally been termed racial profiling -- police failed to interview witnesses, did not ask important questions or made similar mistakes, concluded Andre Birotte, the inspector general, in the 41-page report.

Birotte's staff also found problems with the resolution of several cases, saying supervisors' decisions not to discipline the officers were "not based on information gathered" or "appeared to be unsupported because the underlying investigation was incomplete."

LAPD Cmdr. Rick Webb, who oversees internal affairs, agreed that some of the errors highlighted in the report had been made, but disputed the conclusion that they affected the investigations' outcomes.

How the department handles claims of biased policing has become a high-profile issue in the last few years. The commission, led by President John Mack, began pressing for reforms after it realized that the department, at least since 2001, had dismissed all of the hundreds of allegations of profiling filed against officers each year.

Former Chief William J. Bratton defended the results, arguing that, without a confession from the officer, it is impossible to assess whether the officer made a traffic stop or took some other police action because of a secret bias.

The department set out to revamp how it investigates claims of bias, and last spring it adopted a new set of protocols for the inquiries. Both Webb and Assistant Inspector General Susan Hutson told commission members that the cases reviewed in the report were concluded shortly after the changes went into effect and cautioned that it was too early to assess whether the new guidelines were having an impact. The inspector general is expected to return to the issue in coming months.

Despite intense efforts to train the department's roughly 100 internal affairs investigators in the new protocols and to improve quality controls, there will always be a risk of incomplete or imperfect investigations, Webb warned.

Instead of wading into the murky waters of the motives behind an officer's decision to detain or search a suspect, Webb suggested, the department should put greater focus on the more discernible question of whether the officer's actions were legal.

--

joel.rubin@latimes.com

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