Crime & Justice

LAPD chief will change disciplinary system to add transparency

L.A. Police Chief Charlie Beck said he would make changes to the discipline system to make it more transparent and clear.
L.A. Police Chief Charlie Beck said he would make changes to the discipline system to make it more transparent and clear.
Erika Aguilar/KPCC

Los Angeles police chief Charlie Beck on Tuesday said he would make changes to the department's disciplinary process to make it more transparent and consistent.

A report made public last week showed there is widespread belief among LAPD employees and officers that the internal discipline system is biased based on race, gender and rank. The report was commissioned after ex-LAPD officer Christopher Dorner claimed he was unfairly fired and that race had something to do with it.

Though statistical analysis of discipline hearings and terminations showed nearly no bias based on ethnicity, Beck said at the L.A. Police Commission meeting on Tuesday he would implement the recommendations made in the report.

“Perception and reality may be separated here,” Beck said. “But that makes no difference to me.”

One of the key changes is publishing a penalty guideline so officers know what range of discipline they can expect for misconduct. Another is setting specific rules against nepotism.

Officers surveyed complained that friends and family members of higher-ranking officers are protected from discipline.

Earlier this year, Beck decided to suspended officer Shaun Hillman, the nephew of a former LAPD deputy chief, for 65 days instead of firing him as recommended by a disciplinary board. Hillman got himself into trouble when he was caught off-duty outside a bar using a racial slur and then lied to department officials about it.

As chief of police, Beck decides how hard the hammer comes down on officers found guilty of misconduct. He gets guidance from disciplinary boards that recommend punishment but makes the decision on whether to fire or not. 

One officer in the survey said people who sit on those boards are “beholden” to the police chief and cannot be fair or impartial.

Beck acknowledged the criticism and said he would be more explicit about the importance of independent judgments in disciplinary board hearings.

“They may come to a different decision and that is fine,” he said.

Officers in the survey said the department was too quick to file complaints, either from the public or internally, against officers. The report showed on average about 28 percent of the LAPD staff had at least one complaint filed against them in one year.

Arif AlikHan, special assistant for constitutional policing at the LAPD, said the department should look at how complaints are taken and why some complaints are found to be false. But AlikHan said there is careful consideration of this.

The LAPD was severely criticized in the 1990s for not taking citizen complaints and not properly investigating allegations of police misconduct.

“There is obviously a sensitivity about reducing the number of complaints or how we do that,” AlikHan said on Tuesday.

Another change is bringing back the ‘rap sheet.’  That’s a list of unnamed officers by rank who’ve recently been disciplined.  Department commanders once read these at roll call. Report authors recommended finding a way to make the ‘rap sheet’ more widely used so officers get a sense of the mix of ranks that are being disciplined.

David Nunez, an LAPD officer and union representative, told the Police Commission Tuesday the report did little to address why officers felt like the discipline system was unfair.

“It didn’t focus on the issues,” he said. “There is something here definitely wrong.”

Commissioners were satisfied with the six key recommendations and ask LAPD staff to report back in 60 days on the progress of implementation. The LAPD staff said they plan on checking the pulse of employees again after the recommendations have been introduced.