LAPD chief too light on officer discipline, commissioners contend
Since Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck took over as chief in late 2009, the Police Commission has ruled on about 90 incidents involving officers who fired weapons or used other deadly force. In almost all of them, Beck concluded the officers used force appropriately and urged the commission to clear them of wrongdoing. The board followed his guidance most of the time.
But in four shootings — in which three people were killed and three others wounded by police gunfire — the commission went against the chief's recommendations and ruled the officers' use of lethal force was inappropriate.
In each of those cases, Beck either refused to impose any punishment on the officers or gave them only a written reprimand, an analysis by The Times has found. In a fifth incident, Beck agreed that the officer had been wrong to fire his gun but nonetheless chose not to punish him.
"If this pattern continues, it could undermine the entire discipline system and undermine the authority of the commission," said Robert Saltzman, a member of the Police Commission and associate dean at USC's law school. "It runs the risk of sending the message to officers that there will be no consequences."
The dispute marks a rare point of contention for Beck and the commission, a five-member panel that oversees the Los Angeles Police Department and has otherwise heaped praise on the chief for his performance.
Beck, a majority of the commission members say, is ignoring their conclusions that the officers made serious, often deadly, mistakes. And they fear the lack of punishment may be sending a dangerous message to the LAPD's rank-and-file officers that the consequences for a bad shooting are minimal.
"Sometimes the chief just needs to set a tone and, through his actions, send a message about what kind of conduct is acceptable," said commission President Richard Drooyan, an attorney who served as a high-ranking official in the U.S. attorney's office. Drooyan emphasized that he does not expect the chief to impose a punishment in every case, but said, "If we find there was a very serious transgression ... we'd expect there to be some consequences."
-- Joel Rubin
Photo: LAPD Chief Charlie Beck. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times