LAPD Officer Disclosure Requirements Hit Stumbling Block

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One of the last federally-mandated reforms of the Los Angeles Police Department has hit a stumbling block. The City Council is considering whether to block a provision that would require extensive financial disclosure by officers in the narcotics and gang units. It's intended to root out corrupt officers. KPCC's Frank Stoltze says there's a debate about whether that requirement would even work. (Note: Connie Rice, who was interviewed for this story, is a member of the board of Southern California Public Radio.)

Frank Stoltze: The union that represents LAPD officers is fiercely resisting the financial disclosure requirements. Union president Timothy Sands calls them onerous and potentially dangerous. He warns that the information could get into the wrong hands.

Timothy Sands: The order says that it will be locked under lock and key in the chief's office. Well, the chief's office is too small to keep all those forms in there. The bottom line is, there is no guarantee of who will have access to it, and that through court orders, that criminal defendants could get their hands on the documents.

Stoltze: If the department requires disclosure, Sands says, most of the 600 officers in the narcotics and anti-gang units would leave those assignments rather than comply. Police Chief Bill Bratton isn't buying that.

Bill Bratton: There's a lot of hype, a lot of fear. The vast majority of those officers will not be seeking to leave. They like the work. In the case of the narcotics officers, there's promotions involved, take-home cars, significant overtime.

Stoltze: The chief adds that most officers in the department covet assignments to the specialized units. Under the federal consent decree, narcotics and gang officers would be required every two years to disclose real estate, stocks, and other assets or holdings they own or share with relatives. Bratton says that following the requirement is the only way for the department to get out from under federal supervision.

Bratton: It's not the best, it's not the worst, but it is what we have to work with.

Stoltze: The police commission voted unanimously for the requirements. But the City Council is considering overrriding the commission. Councilman Dennis Zine is a former LAPD officer who agrees the requirements are burdensome and unnecessary. But he says the council should stay out of the issue and let the officers' union sue if it wants to.

Dennis Zine: There's one councilmember who has championed this cause. One councilmember who wants to be the next city attorney, and I think there is political motivation by this councilmember, and I think it is disingenuous to go through this ordeal.

Stoltze: Zine contends that Councilman Jack Weiss is pandering to the police union to win its endorsement.

Jack Weiss: It's absolutely not true.

Stoltze: Weiss says he shares the union's concerns about privacy. He says the mayor's a promise to seek a federal order protecting the information isn't necessarily enough to stop him from seeking to overturn the police commission.

Neither, he says, is a letter from a group of civic leaders urging the council to support the commission. Signatories include former Secretary of State Warren Christopher and the CEO of the L.A. area Chamber of Commerce.

Weiss: It's a very, very impressive letter from very impressive people. It doesn't get into the nitty-gritty of the policy of whether it will help identify bad cops.

Stoltze: The police union has some unexpected supporters. Civil rights lawyer Connie Rice agrees that the financial disclosure requirements are not necessary.

Connie Rice: The provision of the consent decree that requires this kind of disclosure misses the mark. You don't discover this kind of corruption by financial disclosure. It's not like somebody who is stashing away drug money is going to file a 1099 form. (laughs)

Stoltze: District Attorney Steve Cooley and Sheriff Lee Baca have also spoken out in support of the police union. They argue that strong supervision and periodic stings are the best way to fight corruption.

In the end, it's up to a federal judge to decide whether to relax the consent decree's requirements. Chief Bratton notes that the jurist is U.S. District Judge Gary Feess, who's presiding over the trial of a former LAPD officer accused of donning his uniform with other officers as they conducted robberies around Southern California.

Bratton: Coincidentally, he is sitting every day on one of the most significant corruption trials in LAPD history. So each day, it's reinforcing in his mind I'm sure that something went terribly wrong in the 1990s in this department. So we're in a perfect Catch-22 situation.

Stoltze: The chief says the judge could be expected to impose strict requirements on LAPD officers to prevent future corruption.