AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREWalnut’s Malik Khouzam voted Southern California Boys Athlete of the Week “We share the interest in expediting these investigations, while at the same time we’re hoping that trying to expedite does not equal incompleteness,” said Hank Hernandez, general counsel for the Los Angeles Police Protective League, which represents the department’s rank-and-file officers. Expediting the probes is complicated by the ever-present politics of community-police relations and peace officers’ rights, as well as the strict controls of the federal consent decree governing LAPD operations. Furthermore, Los Angeles’ tradition of civilian oversight of the police creates conflicting goals when it comes to speed. The Police Commission gets use-of-force reports at the end of a process that starts with the LAPD’s Force Investigation Division and winds its way through a department review board and the chief of police. It takes time for LAPD investigators to conduct a thorough review, especially in light of the many requirements of the consent decree, and that can leave the Police Commission with very little time to make its final decisions. Tired of racing against the calendar to make disciplinary decisions in use-of-force cases, the new Los Angeles Police Commission has made speeding up such investigations its first major initiative. The commission is still waiting to consider 28 incidents in which Los Angeles Police Department officers used force in 2004, including eight incidents from last October, according to records obtained by the Daily News. Because state law gives agencies one year to discipline officers, the commission has been holding special meetings in order to get the cases heard. The plan has drawn wide support, with LAPD Chief William Bratton signing on and community groups and the police union backing the concept. As the plan moves ahead into action, though, officials are grappling with the question of how to balance substance and speed. “The commission is concerned they’re getting cases too close to the statute of limitations,” said Andre Birotte, the commission’s inspector general. “They’re reviewing this stuff with a fine-tooth comb, so they want to have the time to ask questions and, where necessary, get follow-up.” Police Commission Executive Director Richard Tefank acknowledges there are what he calls “conflicting issues” in time frames of the LAPD and the commission, but he thinks there is a way to find a balance. Tefank, Birotte and Gerald Chaleff, who heads the LAPD’s Consent Decree Bureau, have been meeting with police investigators and examining the process, and they hope to make recommendations to the Police Commission by Nov. 8. “We’re not going in with an assumption of why the time frame takes so long,” Tefank said. “We’re looking at the investigative process, the timeline for that process and, to expedite that process, what would be necessary: policy changes, investigative changes and obviously resources that might be needed.” Los Angeles police officers are involved in serious use-of-force incidents about once every three days. Last year the LAPD restructured how it investigates such incidents after the federal monitor overseeing the consent decree found fault with the process. The LAPD created the Force Investigation Division, which probes potential criminal culpability of the suspects and the officers involved, as well as policy and disciplinary issues. Lt. Kevin McClure of the Force Investigation Division said he welcomes the effort to speed up the probes as part of his relatively new unit’s development. “It’s all in the spirit of getting better, and we do need to get better,” he said. “Are there glitches? Yes. Are there things to be ironed out? Yes. But I’m there every day, and I see progress every day.” The division is overseen by the Professional Standards Bureau, in which Deputy Chief Michael Berkow said efforts to expedite investigations fit in with his aim of “continuous improvement,” but must be balanced. “Our focus is on delivering a thorough, complete, accurate product in a timely fashion,” Berkow said. “For us, accuracy wins over speed.” When the Force Investigation Division was created, it inherited a backlog of 66 cases that exceeded a consent decree timeline for the LAPD to hand over cases to the Police Commission. The division has whittled the number down to about 40 while using new technology to examine incidents and present findings. It also has brought in outside speakers to train officers and has studied issues pertinent to cases, such as officer fatigue. Still, the division faces some daunting challenges. The past year has brought complicated, politically charged cases like the shootings of teenager Devin Brown and infant Susie Pea, as well as other incidents that never generated headlines. The LAPD has also asked the division to look at high-profile cases that fall outside its normal serious-force model, such as the arrest of Nation of Islam Minister Tony Muhammad. In each case, investigators work with representatives of the District Attorney’s Office, the Police Commission and the police union while adhering to the rules of the consent decree. Interviews with witnesses, sometimes numbering in the dozens, must be recorded, transcribed and double-checked, and discrepancies must be specially logged. “We refer to reports based on size,” McClure said. “Is that a 4-inch report or an 8-inch report, or are we into the boxes?” It is always difficult for officers involved in use-of-force incidents, and they dislike having the cases drag on, said Hernandez, the union’s general counsel. The league hopes the Police Commission’s efforts to speed up the probes can also give officers more of a voice in the process, Hernandez said. Ultimately, though, he thinks the current situation could be temporary. “I don’t think it will outlast the consent decree,” he said. “I think once the department gets out of it, there will be less concern about being second-guessed.” Berkow, though, says the Force Investigation Division is trying to adopt state-of-the art police practices, and he expects reforms to outlive the consent decree. He points to a recent report by the nonprofit Police Executive Research Forum that hailed the LAPD’s unified team approach – described as innovative – in investigating force incidents. “It’s a unique national model,” Berkow said. “We’re continually looking at best practices wherever they might be.” Dan Laidman, (213) 978-0390 [email protected] URGENT CASES The Los Angeles Police Commission is up against a one-year statute of limitations in dealing with the following cases: Oct. 16, 2004 – Law enforcement-related injury. Oct. 20, 2004 – Officer-involved shooting. Oct. 22, 2004 – Law enforcement activity-related death. Oct. 24, 2004 – Law enforcement-related injury. Oct. 28, 2004 – Law enforcement-related injury, head strike. Oct. 29, 2004 – Law enforcement-related injury, head strike. Oct. 30, 2004 – In-custody death. Oct. 31, 2004 – Officer-involved shooting. Source: Los Angeles Police Commission 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. 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