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Audit of LAPD lawsuits met with concern, rising tempers

July 02, 2013|By Joel Rubin

Members of the Los Angeles Police Commission on Tuesday expressed concern and frustration over the findings of an audit that concluded the LAPD fails to take basic steps to curtail costly lawsuits filed by officers.

The audit, conducted by the commission's inspector general, found the LAPD routinely destroys case files, keeps inaccurate and incomplete information on lawsuits, and has no system in place to identify recurring issues that lead to problems between officers. The Times first reported on the audit last week.

Commissioner Rafael Bernardino wasted no time at the panel's weekly meeting in leveling a sharp criticism at department officials, calling the audit findings "horrible."

"A fail across the board," he said, visibly dismayed.

Richard Drooyan, another member of the commission, was less harsh in his criticism, but said he was troubled to learn from the audit that the department routinely destroys case files once lawsuits are resolved.

Gerald Chaleff, who oversees the LAPD's response to lawsuits, bristled at the criticism. He told the commission some of the findings in the audit, including the record destruction, were not accurate.

Alex Bustamante, the inspector general, pushed back, saying top LAPD officials reviewed the audit for factual errors before its release last week and did not raise any concerns.

The commission directed the department to respond to the audit's findings in writing in three weeks.

The exchange featured an unusual level of public discord for the commission and a top LAPD official. Typically, sharp exchanges and disagreements take place behind closed doors.

The audit tallied that in the past five years the city has paid out $31 million in taxpayer money to resolve lawsuits filed by disgruntled officers who allege harassment, discrimination, and other workplace problems.

Those cases account for almost one-third of the $110 million paid in all LAPD lawsuits over the five years, including those involving allegations of excessive force and traffic accidents, the report found.

The audit's findings echoed totals in an earlier Times article on the issue.

In a set of recommendations, Bustamante called on the department, among other things, to implement a mediation program that would attempt to resolve officers' complaints before they result in lawsuits.

Although the union that represents rank-and-file officers has agreed to the idea of the new program, Chaleff said the department was still a ways off from putting it in place. He cited the complexities of starting such an endeavor like the mediation program that has "a lot of moving parts."

Police Chief Charlie Beck tried to tamp down the heated discussion, telling the commission he was confident the recent election of a new city attorney, Mike Feuer, would improve cooperation and communication between the department and the city attorney's office. Under Feuer's predecessor, Carmen Trutanich, the relationship between the two agencies had become strained.

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Twitter: @joelrubin

joel.rubin@latimes.com

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