Traffic related lawsuits are becoming a big issue for the Los Angeles Police Department, representing a quarter of all suits filed against the police department. Just recently, the family of a woman killed by a police car received $6.6 million, the largest such sum to date. Over the last decade, the overall cost to the city has been about $30 million.
Responding to the large payout, Councilman Bill Rosendahl said, “We have no choice,” clearly representing the dearth of alternatives or solutions to this problem.
LA Times reporter Joel Rubin, who began investigating traffic related incidents with the LAPD years ago, says that maybe it is time to for the department to start looking at this problem.
“There has been so much attention on so many areas of reform, if you wanted to have a generous read on it, I think you could say maybe this is just one they didn’t recognize as a problem area and now are just getting around to recognizing it,” Rubin said. “But I do think there’s probably some institutional blindside to it.”
Robert Glassman, the attorney representing the Lugo family in the $6.6 million lawsuit, says the investigation into the woman’s death was sloppy and he is already seeing changes in the way the LAPD is handling such cases.
“This case has spurred the LAPD to reconsider the way they investigate serious traffic accidents involving LAPD officers,” Glassman said. “The way they are going to do it now...is they are going to investigate them the way they investigate officer involved shootings which involves more scrutiny, it [also] prevents collusion among the officers.”
Glassman says in this particular incident two officers were driving over twice the speed limit, at night, with no lights, and no sirens. They initially blamed Ms. Lugo for the incident but after an independent investigation it was found she was in no way at fault.
The question of officer related traffic incidents comes just as the LAPD saw a dramatic increase in the number of police shootings. Officers shot at and hit 47 suspects in 2011, compared to 26 in 2010.
In a public explanation, Police Chief Charlie Beck reasoned that the jump in shootings was directly related to an increase in the number of assaults on police officers which jumped 22 percent in 2011 to 193.
However, Alex Bustamante, the inspector general for the Los Angeles Police Commission, is scrutinizing Beck’s claim. Bustamante pored over the data, and found several fault points that show there is not a correlation between the two.
Joe Domanick, Associate Director, Center for Media, Crime and Justice at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, says the problem might be a vast focus on many areas of reform is taking away from certain problems.
“Sometimes problems have to become glaring problems before administrators or executives address them simply because they’re either unaware or they’re doing other things,” Domanick said.
What is being done by the LAPD to reduce such instances? Why are these figures so astronomically high? Is there a way to cut down on police traffic accidents while still effectively patrolling the streets?
Robert Glassman, Attorney representing the Lugo family; Attorney with Panish Shea & Boyle LLP law firm based in Santa Monica
Joel Rubin, LA Times Reporter
Joe Domanick, Associate Director, Center for Media, Crime and Justice at John Jay College of Criminal Justice