The LAPD's Inspector General says police have been gaming department computers to falsely inflate the number of officers and patrol cars that are on duty at any given time. Those "ghost cars" made it appear that more police were pounding the beat than actually were available to respond to 911 calls.
The Inspector General for the city Police Commission was tipped off about the faked patrol stats last March. His report to the commissioners was made public this week. KPCC reported on the investigation in late July.
Mark Cronin, a director of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, said some of his members blew the whistle on what he described as a longstanding practice. Once the Inspector General investigated, the false reporting stopped, Cronin said.
"If I'm sick or I'm working the desk, and I'm being deployed as a black-and-white that is ready to come and answer calls for service, that is what a ghost car is," Cronin said.
He called it a "smoke and mirrors" tactic that misled the public about the strength of police patrols in their areas. He declined to say in what areas of the LAPD the misreporting was occurring, to protect the identities of officers who complained about it to the Inspector General.
The report says LAPD officers and managers of various ranks would check officers into vacant assignments right before the department's computerized patrol software did its head count, then log the officers off when the count was done.
For example, an officer who was working in an LAPD equipment room for his shift would have been shown on the police staffing computer assigned to a patrol car available to respond to calls for help in the community.
At the heart of the issue is the LAPD's computerized Patrol Plan, devised in the late 1980s to make sure police were fairly distributed throughout the city. Police managers would be held accountable for meeting the Patrol Plan each shift. When some shifts were at risk of not being covered, that's when officers were checked in showing them doing jobs they were not actually doing, the report said.
The report does not indicate how widespread the false reports were, give any names of officers or command staff involved, or the geographic areas that were staffed up on paper but not in reality.
The Inspector General investigated only two patrol areas in one bureau. The IG's original tip indicated the ghost cars and officers were being reported on duty in five areas across three bureaus.