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Report on Burbank police: Deficiencies in use-of-force investigations

November 24, 2012 | 12:55 pm

A recent report on the Burbank Police Department's internal investigations, including those involving use of force, found deficiencies in timeliness, evidence gathering and problem spotting.

The report by the Los Angeles County Office of Independent Review, which the city hired last year for department oversight, comes at a time when the agency is still reeling from excessive force allegations, officer-involved lawsuits and a federal investigation into alleged officer misconduct.

Despite the deficiencies, authors of the report noted some improvements when compared to “below base line” cases from previous years.

“The consensus we found, generally speaking, was that the efforts by your police department were really an objective search for truth,” said Michael Gennaco, chief attorney for the review board. “That doesn't mean every investigation was perfect.”

The team of attorneys reviewed six internal investigations and 11 use-of-force incidents that were closed this year.

Gennaco's biggest concern was the length of time it took to complete the investigations. Of the six internal investigations reviewed, one — which consisted of just four interviews — had expired. The officer was never disciplined for failing to document a sexual battery allegation because the investigation wasn't finished on time.

State law gives officials one year to complete internal investigations.

“The worst thing you want to do is have an officer who should have been held accountable not be held accountable because of a technicality,” Gennaco said.

In another case, an officer was interviewed eight months after the incident in question and couldn't recall the details, making it difficult “to challenge the officer,” Gennaco added.

The majority of the investigations, however, were completed within a few months of the incident.

Gennaco also discovered instances when suspects' injuries weren't prioritized. A suspect who'd been kicked by an officer — in the same spot where he'd been shot years earlier — complained of stomach pain three times before he was sent to a medical facility.

Another suspect who was intoxicated and uncooperative when arrested complained of pain for two days while in custody. It was discovered later that his finger was broken.

The report also revealed shortcomings in witness interviews. In one case involving use of force against a juvenile, the suspect's story differed from the officer's, but other officers who responded were not interviewed.

Interim Police Chief Scott LaChasse said the department is implementing changes to address Gennaco's concerns.

“Today, there's probably more strict instruction in terms of taking complaints and doing a full, complete investigation,” LaChasse said.

Overall, the report found that the department's use-of-force response protocols were thoughtful and thorough.

Despite the report's critique, Gennaco commended the city for its transparency.

“It's going to be uncomfortable for some — change always is, transparency always is,” Gennaco said. “The curtain's been thrown open, light has been allowed in.”

-- Alene Tchekmedyian

Photo: A report on the Burbank Police Department (its headquarters is pictured above) found deficiencies in timeliness, evidence gathering and problem spotting. Credit: Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times