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LAPD watchdog vows to erase backlog in use-of-force reports

Police Commission's inspector general is supposed to report the agency's findings for every instance of an officer firing his weapon or using serious force. About 240 cases have not been reviewed.

May 19, 2010|By Joel Rubin, Los Angeles Times

The independent watchdog of the Los Angeles Police Department vowed Tuesday to tackle a backlog of public reports on police shootings and other violent encounters with suspects.

Nicole Bershon, the newly selected inspector general of the Los Angeles Police Commission, told commission members that her staff would attempt to publish five of the neglected reports each week in a bid to erase the entrenched backlog. There are about 240 cases for which reports have not be done.

Four years ago, the commission that oversees the LAPD instructed Bershon's predecessor to publish a report on every case in which an officer fires his weapon, strikes someone on the head or uses other types of serious force.

The reports were to include a summary of the incident and the commission's determination of whether the officer's actions were in line with department policies. Although limited in the details they provide, the summaries are the only available avenue for the media and the public to track the outcome of use-of-force investigations.

The inspector general's office fell behind from the outset and all but ceased writing the reports last year. Among the unreported decisions are at least a dozen cases in which the commission ruled the officer had improperly used deadly force and should be disciplined, according to a review last week by The Times.

After being questioned about the summaries by a Times reporter, commission President John Mack directed Bershon to address the issue on the day he announced her as the new inspector general.

In comments to the commission at a meeting Tuesday, Bershon acknowledged the problem and said a handful of summaries had been completed in recent days. She mistakenly told commissioners, however, that The Times had erred in counting more than 100 cases in which officers accidentally fired their weapons or shot dogs. Those types of cases, she said, were not part of the reporting policy. But Richard Tefank, the commission's executive director, confirmed that those cases do require public summaries.

With a depleted staff responsible for completing a wide array of audits and reports, it remains to be seen whether Bershon will be able to maintain her goal of five reports each week while keeping up with the steady influx of new cases.

Mack said he planned to petition city officials for permission to fill vacancies in the inspector general's office despite a citywide hiring freeze.

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