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LAPD concedes need to improve probes of retaliation claims

An official says more investigators and a high-ranking supervisor will be added to the unit that looks into officers' claims of retaliation.

May 18, 2011|By Joel Rubin, Los Angeles Times
  • LAPD headquarters in downtown Los Angeles.
LAPD headquarters in downtown Los Angeles. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times )

Los Angeles police officials Tuesday acknowledged serious shortcomings in the way the LAPD investigates claims of retaliation among officers, vowing to make improvements and increase training for supervisors who are often accused of workplace misconduct.

Responding to a critical report by the department's independent watchdog, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and others offered up an unusually candid mea culpa to the Police Commission, the civilian body that oversees the department.

Document: LAPD retaliation report

"We have a lot of work to do in this area," Cmdr. Rick Webb, who oversees day-to-day operations of the department's Internal Affairs Group, conceded to the commission.

LAPD policy forbids officers from retaliating against other officers who report misconduct, take advantage of allotted time off or exercise other rights. Cases of retaliation often involve allegations that officers were unfairly passed over for coveted assignments, given poor work evaluations or harassed with crude behavior.

The report from LAPD Inspector General Nicole Bershon highlighted systemic problems with the way internal affairs investigators look into retaliation claims. Often, the report found, investigators determine that the actions of accused officers do not amount to misconduct.

As a result, the accused officers frequently are not interviewed and sometimes are removed from the investigation altogether, which makes it all but impossible for the department to identify a pattern of misbehavior as a problem employee moves from assignment to assignment, Bershon said.

The substandard quality of workplace investigations is due in part to the high volume of such cases, which has saddled investigators with as many as 10 cases at a time, officials said. In an effort to remedy this, more investigators and a high-ranking supervisor will be added to the unit that investigates retaliation claims, said Capt. Don Schwartzer, a commanding officer from Webb's office.

Webb emphasized that he sees a larger problem in the amount and quality of training that supervisors receive in how to address and mitigate workplace conflicts. Small arguments or miscommunications between officers often are not dealt with quickly or effectively, allowing them to "fester and create huge, huge problems," Webb said.

"The culture change has to be with the commanding officers, to give them the skills to deal with these situations quickly," he said.

On the heels of a Los Angeles Times article last week that exposed the large number of lawsuits LAPD officers file against the department over retaliation and other workplace issues, commission members expressed displeasure that workplace frictions, when handled poorly, can cost taxpayers millions of dollars in verdicts and settlements for complaining officers who successfully sue.

Beck acknowledged the need for the LAPD to be better at mitigating problems before they get out of control, saying he plans to overhaul the way the department handles its "risk management" issues, including lawsuits and other potential liabilities. Details of those broader reforms will be announced in coming months, he said.

Document: LAPD retaliation report

Problems surrounding retaliation cases and the broader issue of officer lawsuits have bedeviled the department for years. Commissioner Rob Saltzman said he welcomed the promised improvements but was skeptical about whether they would result in tangible changes.

"This is not a new set of issues," he said during the meeting. "We have been more patient than we should have been."

joel.rubin@latimes.com

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