Law and order in L.A. County

Written By kolimtiga on Rabu, 09 April 2014 | 12.56

In Los Angeles, patrol officers are caught disabling recording equipment that was in place to keep them honest.

In Santa Monica, a high school student demonstrates why the wrestling coach is the last faculty member to mess with.

And in Glendale, a young woman challenges the definition of "hands-free" driving after getting a ticket for talking on a phone tucked into her head scarf.

These three police blotter tales have little in common, except that I've assembled them in a nice spring bouquet, along with a prickly observation or two.

First the LAPD.

Two weeks ago, my colleague Joel Rubin reported that LAPD Chief Charlie Beck suspended a cop despite a disciplinary board recommendation that he be fired for off-duty transgressions and for lying about them to Los Angeles Police Department investigators. Now Beck has taken aim and shot himself in the other foot just before his contract comes up for renewal.

On Tuesday, Rubin reported that Beck chose not to investigate a case involving officers who disabled voice recording equipment in roughly 50 patrol cars.

So why would cops disable the audio systems? I'm not a detective, but I'm guessing they didn't want anyone to hear how they conducted themselves on the job.

Well, here's the problem with that:

Using the recording devices isn't optional. They're in place to discourage police misconduct as well as to protect cops against false claims by citizens, and they were one of the safeguards established when the U.S. Justice Department lifted its oversight of the department.

Not to mention that most of the patrol cars in question were based in the Southeast Division, where there's been a history of complaints against police and years of work by Beck and others to rebuild community trust.

So how could the LAPD justify anything short of a top-to-bottom investigation into such widespread insubordination?

Police say they warned cops to shape up and put new protocols in place to prevent further tampering. But so many officers had used the cars that were tampered with that trying to find those who sabotaged the equipment would have been futile.

"There were literally hundreds of officers in those cars," LAPD Cmdr. Andrew Smith told me, adding that it was impossible to know whether "one person or three people or 33 people" might have messed with the equipment. Smith said that rather than spend countless hours investigating who was responsible, it seemed prudent to prevent future abuses.

Understood, but that's a dangerous admission. If someone breaks into my house, are the police going to tell me there are so many potential perps that they won't investigate?

"If someone is tampering with [police] cars, that in itself is a crime," said Rob Saltzman, a member of the Police Commission. "OK, it's difficult to do an investigation. I understand that. But to me, that doesn't mean you don't do an investigation."

Even more disconcerting, Saltzman said, was that Beck's command staff kept the commission in the dark after learning of the tampering last summer. He intends to demand an explanation.

Ten-four that.


Now, on to SaMo.

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