Los Angeles police officials Tuesday acknowledged serious shortcomings in the way the LAPD investigates claims of retaliation among officers, vowing quick reforms to the unit that investigates such cases and better training for supervisors who are often accused of workplace misconduct.
Responding to a critical report by the department's independent watchdog, senior LAPD officials offered up an unusually candid mea culpa to the police commission, the civilian body that oversees the department.
"We have a lot of work to do in this area," Cmdr. Rick Webb, who oversees day-to-day operations of the LAPD's Internal Affairs Group, conceded to the commission.
LAPD policy forbids officers from retaliating against other officers who report misconduct, take advantage of allotted time off or exercise other rights. Cases of retaliation often involve allegations that officers were unfairly passed over for coveted assignments, given poor work evaluations or harassed with crude behavior.
The report from LAPD Inspector General Nicole Bershon found systemic problems with the way internal affairs investigators look into retaliation claims. Often, the report said, investigators determine that the actions of accused officers do not amount to misconduct.
As a result, the accused officers frequently are not interviewed and sometimes are removed from the investigation altogether, which makes it all but impossible for the department to identify a pattern of misbehavior as a problem employee moves from assignment to assignment, Bershon warned. Webb and other officials told the commission that the substandard quality of workplace investigations is due, in part, to the high volume of such cases. Investigators in the understaffed unit are saddled with as many as 10 cases at a time, officials said. In an effort to remedy this, more investigators and a high-ranking supervisor will be added to the unit, said Capt. Don Schwartzer, a commanding officer from Webb's office.
Webb emphasized that he sees a larger problem in the amount and quality of training given to supervisors on how to address and mitigate workplace conflicts. Small arguments or miscommunications between officers often are not addressed quickly or effectively, allowing them to "fester and create huge, huge problems," Webb said.
"The culture change has to be with the commanding officers, to give them the skills to deal with these situations quickly," Webb said.
On the heels of a Times article last week that highlighted the large number of lawsuits LAPD officers file against the department over retaliation and other workplace issues, commission members expressed displeasure that workplace frictions, when handled poorly, cost taxpayers millions of dollars in verdicts and settlements for disgruntled officers who prevail in court.
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck acknowledged the need for the department to be better at mitigating problems before they get out of control, saying he is planning to overhaul the way the department handles its "risk management" issues, including lawsuits and other potential liabilities.
Problems surrounding retaliation cases and the broader issue of officer lawsuits have bedeviled the department for years.
Commissioner Rob Saltzman said he welcomed the promised improvements but was skeptical of whether they would result in tangible changes.
"This is not a new set of issues," he said during the meeting. "We have been more patient than we should have been."