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LAPD watchdog finds short paper trail on force investigations

Ninety-five percent of such cases involve 'less serious' use of force by officers and get less rigorous internal review, making them tougher to scrutinize, L.A. Police Commission says.

June 11, 2013|By Joel Rubin, Los Angeles Times

The Los Angeles Police Department investigates incidents involving the use of force by officers in a way that makes it difficult in most cases for the city's police watchdog to evaluate the thoroughness of those investigations, according to a recent report.

Alex Bustamante, the inspector general for the L.A. Police Commission, presented the oversight board with a detailed report Tuesday examining how LAPD officials deal with incidents involving less serious uses of force by officers.

These less serious cases, called non-categoricals, or non-cats in LAPD jargon, can include body holds, punches, baton strikes and the firing of non-lethal weapons such as a Taser or bean-bag projectiles. Such cases account for about 95% of the roughly 1,750 force incidents LAPD officers are involved in each year, the report found. The remaining cases — about 90 each year — are the more serious cases in which officers attempt to shoot someone or use some other type of deadly force.

Although cases involving deadly force undergo months-long investigations by a special detective unit, the less serious cases receive considerably less intensive reviews by regular field supervisors. Bustamante pointed out in the report, for example, that in nearly all of the lesser cases, interviews with officers who either participated in the incident or witnessed it are not recorded. Also, the report said, department policy requires only that a single account of the incident be written from the officers' perspective, regardless of how many officers were involved.

Such policies, Bustamante told commissioners at a meeting Tuesday, made it difficult, if not impossible, for his office to adequately assess the quality of the department's investigations.

"It does not mean they are bad," he said. "I just don't have the ability to look."

As far as he could tell from the documents available, Bustamante reported that a sampling of cases showed that the department generally was doing a good job on its investigations.

LAPD Assistant Chief Sandy Jo MacArthur told the commission that with limited resources, the department is unable to deal with all types of force cases equally. Officials, she said, have been looking at the issue for months and are planning to roll out changes to training and procedures. One upcoming change, she said, would be a requirement that all officers involved in less serious force incidents complete a standardized series of questions on what occurred.

joel.rubin@latimes.com

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