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Crime & Justice

Police need more leeway to explain disciplinary decisions, LAPD chief says




Reed Saxon/AP

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Police departments should have "greater leeway" for disclosing the disciplinary measures meted out against officers, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said Wednesday.

The chief was responding to questions related to the confidentiality rules that have left the public in the dark about what discipline will be meted out to the officers involved in the fatal shooting of Ezell Ford, the unarmed black man whose story has echoed many others in recent years amid a growing movement nationwide to highlight and combat excessive use of force by police.

"I did not create the confidentiality laws that I'm bound by," Beck said. "I think that there should be greater leeway for the police department to make not only the decisions known, but the rationale behind the decision."

The fallout has continued after the L.A. Police Commission last week ruled against Beck and found LAPD officer Sharlton Wampler was wrong to stop Ford in an incident that culminated in the mentally ill young man being fatally shot.

Beck downplayed his disagreement with the commission and told AirTalk guest host Patt Morrison that the outcome was the result of a model system of checks and balances molded from a process that has come at "great expense to the city," referring to past riots, a federal consent decree and other dark stains on the department's past.

Beck noted that other departments have looked to the LAPD for its system of police and civilian oversight and that the discussions that come from intelligent disagreement move the profession forward.

Beck did not indicate when he will decide on disciplinary measures against Wampler or what form they may take, insisting that he is bound by law to keep it confidential.

The chief acknowledged that there are certain exceptions to the confidentiality rule, but he did not say whether he would pursue them.

He noted several times that the law as it currently stands prevents him from disclosing how he plans to discipline the officers involved.

“I must follow the law. Now, we can have discussions about what would be a better way to regulate this but that won't change how this will be regulated,” Beck said.

Morrison and Beck covered a number of other topics, including a new foot patrol beat in Chinatown and Beck's video statement telling officers they had the support of the city and their chief — though he drew criticism for not including the police commission.

Guest:

Charlie Beck, Chief,  Los Angeles Police Department

Interview Highlights

There were comments from the head of the Police Protective League that LAPD officers, as a consequence of [the Ezell Ford case] now fear that if they make a mistake the city won't back them up. What do you have to say about that?

Chief Beck: Well, we certainly haven't seen that. I monitor the productivity of our officers very closely as a general rule — and in particular since the finding in this case — and we haven't seen any slowdown at this point. Nobody that I know becomes a Los Angeles police officer to roll up their windows and drive around. This is one of the most difficult policing jobs in the country ... the level of scrutiny is very high ... people don't come to this job because it's easy. We're here because we want to make a difference.

Chief, you and the commission are looking at the same set of guidelines, why is it that you found this to be in policy and the police commission didn't? How could that happen?

CB: Well people, as I said, disagree on this topic all the time. Reasonable suspicion is a topic of contention in every criminal case in which it applies. This is not unusual for people to have different opinions on this and especially when you recognize that I see things through my experience, in my eyes, which is very different than theirs. That's not to say who's right and who's wrong, but it is to say that I have strong reasons and strong beliefs in my opinion on this. I also have my role in the process and my role is to determine discipline if it applies to the employees involved and that has yet to come and I will absolutely do the right thing on that.

Do you have a deadline for that?

CB: You know, I have a personal deadline. I'm not going to reveal that because I don't think it helps the discussion for a couple of reasons. One of which is that by state law, I cannot make public whether or not I discipline these officers and what that discipline was so to create an expectation that there is going to be some type of announcement based on a date point would be unreasonable. 

Why no mention of the police commission in your message to officers?

CB: Well, it wasn't intended to put forth a position for or against the officers by the commission. It was intended to do exactly what it did. It was intended to tell officers that they needed to continue to develop community support, that they had community support. I used myself as an example; I used the mayor as an example; I used the vast majority of Los Angeles as the other example. No intent to omit the commission. No intent to comment one way or the other about the commission's support for the rank and file. I know all the commissioners very well, they're good people. I believe that they were guided by what they thought was right. I am not disparaging them; that was not the intent of the video. 

What is the reaction you have been getting from your officers to this?

CB: They have lots of questions ... they have a lot of concerns and they need to hear from me not only what I've been telling you about why the system is setup as it is and what the system is and what the check and balances within the system are ... and they also need to know that the city supports them.

We've been through a lot and our systems have been molded in a process that has come at great expense to the city, whether it's the Rampart investigation, the consent decree, the Christopher commission, all of that has molded the process that we're talking about. This is not a process that the police department came up with. It's not a process that the Police Commission came up with. It is a process that was molded through hard work by many parties to create a checks and balances system that is the best representation of professional management and civilian oversight. 

The Police union has said the Ford decision is a political one. Do you agree?

CB: I think that is a question for the folks that make the decision. I don't believe that's why they did it ... I think they make the decision that they believe is right and I believe that is what they did in this case. I don't want to speak for them. That is my belief. 

What about the new training that may reflect some of the commission's finding in this particular instance? Are you contemplating that?

CB: Absolutely. I think training is always important. Police work is not static; its an evolution. That's not to say that this ruling is revolutionary, but it is part of an ongoing evolution of policing. More importantly, it's part of a national discussion. There is a national discussion ongoing that the Los Angeles Police Department is a part of that talks about trust and policing. If we can find a way to build greater trust while policing effectively in this city, then it's my obligation that we do that and part of that is training.