How the LAPD deals with the dozens of lawsuits filed against it each year… (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times )
Although taxpayers have shelled out tens of millions of dollars in recent years to disgruntled officers who sued over harassment and other workplace problems, Los Angeles Police Department officials have failed to take even basic steps to reduce the number of the costly lawsuits, an audit released Friday found.
In a stinging 10-page report, the L.A. Police Commission's inspector general concluded that 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.
How the LAPD deals with the dozens of lawsuits filed against it each year — commonly referred to as risk management — has been one of the most pressing issues for Police Chief Charlie Beck and the commission in recent years.
Verdicts and settlement payouts have continued to pile up, and elected officials have grown increasingly frustrated. Beck's appointment in 2011 of a risk-management czar appears to have made little difference so far.
A spokesman for Beck said the chief would not comment on the report until Tuesday, when the commission is scheduled to discuss it at its weekly meeting. Commission members either did not respond to requests for comment or declined.
The cost of the lawsuits to the city is significant.
Alex Bustamante, the inspector general, calculated that the city has paid $31 million over the last five years to resolve employment-related cases in which members of the LAPD contended they were victims of discrimination, harassment, retaliation or other misconduct. That was almost one-third of the $110 million paid in all LAPD lawsuits, including those involving allegations of excessive force and traffic accidents, the report found.
In a set of recommendations, Bustamante called on the department to implement a mediation program devised by the LAPD, city attorneys and officials from the union representing rank-and-file police officers.
Tyler Izen, the union president, could not explain why the department has not yet put the mediation program in place, saying the union has signed off on it and wants to see it used.
"I don't know what their internal delays are," he said. "If you get everyone in a room to discuss what the issues are, they generally can get things resolved.... We, too, want to solve these problems more quickly and get our people back to work much sooner than dragging them through long, costly litigation."
Bustamante also suggested that the department abandon its practice of destroying case files once a lawsuit is completed and improve the accuracy of information stored in a case-tracking database.
Finally, Bustamante said, the department needs to do better at using past cases to identify workplace pitfalls that routinely lead to lawsuits and then train supervisors on how to handle problems when they arise.