Crime & Justice

LAPD watchdogs warn 'ghost cars' may indicate deeper problems

LAPD Officers on patrol in Skid Row in a file photo from earlier this year.
LAPD Officers on patrol in Skid Row in a file photo from earlier this year.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Los Angeles police commissioners on Tuesday expressed concern that the falsification of patrol reports and the misclassification of crime statistics may be symptoms of deeper problems at the LAPD.

Commissioners said the department may be relying too heavily on data and pressuring the LAPD supervisors collecting it to falsely report positive numbers.

The police inspector general and top commanders confirmed that at least two divisions, Hollenbeck and Northeast, had inflated the number of police patrol cars in the field in order to reach goals set for them by department brass.

A police officer had first reported this practice, also known as counting “ghost cars,” to the inspector general in March.

L.A. Police Commissioner Robert Saltzman said Tuesday the underlying problem seems to be how the department collects and uses data to influence public perceptions of its performance.

“I am troubled that this report is now the second instance in recent months in which there have been serious questions raised about the accuracy of the data used by the department and in some cases, being reported publicly,” he said.

Saltzman was referring to a Los Angeles Times investigation from August that suggested the LAPD had misclassified hundreds of aggravated assaults as lesser crimes, resulting in statistics that showed a lower violent crime rate. The police inspector general has opened an investigation into that reporting as well.

“We need to remain especially vigilant to ensure that we don’t put so much pressure on those reporting the data that we somehow incentivize short cuts or misreporting the data,” Saltzman said.

Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck and Deputy Chief Earl Paysinger, who supervises operations, told the police commission they had never heard of the term “ghost cars” before.

They said there’s rarely a mandate for commanders to meet 100 percent of the patrol goals. There’s flexibility in how they deploy patrol officers, Beck said.

“There are no direct consequences if they have a legitimate excuse for not meeting patrol plan, which many do,” he said.

Commissioner Kathleen Kim said she would have liked the investigation to zero in on the root cause of the false patrol car reporting.

“There has to be a root cause,” she said. “And it’s important to understand what the cause was.”

The inspector general said the practice isn’t happening anymore but recommended the LAPD do surprise audits over the next two years at all divisions to make sure false reporting isn’t occurring. 

The LAPD will report back to the police commission in three months on what steps have been taken to make sure “ghost cars” are no longer a problem.