Last week, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) announced that an investigation has been initiated, centered on the actions of three officers who were working the LAPD Metropolitan Division crime suppression detail. The officers are accused of falsifying records.
This week, LAPD Chief Michel Moore told the Sentinel that the investigation has expanded to 19 officers and the number could grow as the investigation continues.
“The investigation is going to go where the investigation takes us,” said Moore.
The elite Metro Division consists of 200 uniformed officers assigned throughout the city, not only South Los Angeles, but also other communities experiencing increased levels of violent crime or crime-related problems that these added resources are meant to fix by identifying the perpetrators, lowering the crime rate and improving community safety.
According to Moore, the department learned that a patrol stop conducted by the three officers in March 2019, which involved a Latino minor in the Van Nuys area of the San Fernando Valley, evolved into an investigative stop.
“During that stop of that individual, the officers completed what is known as a field interview card,” said Moore, who explained that the index card-size is an official LAPD report that contains the name, date of birth, physical description and residential address of an individual.
Another section of the report is designed for officers to describe the reasons for the interaction and whether the person is a victim, witness or a potential suspect involved in a criminal activity. Although Moore has yet to review the completed investigation report, he said he was told that the officers completed the field interview and the individual was released.
However, the submitted card showed that the officers had written that minor was an admitted gang member and they cited details to support that conclusion. As a result of that information, the LAPD prepared to log the minor’s name into the LAPD gang database and notified the minor’s parent via mail of the department’s intention.
“The mother apparently got the letter and went down the local station and spoke to the supervisor and contested the information that was contained and also contested and asserted that her son was not a gang member,” Moore said. A subsequent investigation by the officers’ supervisor, which included a review of body-worn camera footage of the interaction, revealed that the information on the car was false and events did not occur the way the officers’ had written in their report.
“On the basis of that, the supervisor told the mother that this information would not result in this young man being entered into the gang database and apologized for this encounter,” said the chief. “But also, the supervisor initiated a complaint or formal internal affairs investigation into the facts and circumstances.”
Moore said the department takes this matter “very seriously” and when he was briefed on the situation, he directed that not only would LAPD investigate the facts and circumstances of this particular stop in Van Nuys, but that they would investigate the facts and circumstances of other similar stops by these three individuals and determine whether or not this had happened in the past or there are additional instances of misconduct or apparent misconduct.
“Again, everything I say here is pending me seeing the complete investigation,” said Moore, who decided to expand the investigation to determine if the falsifying of records extends to others within Metropolitan Crime Suppression Unit.
To date, Moore said they have found a “high number of instances in which there is no level of misconduct and that the officers’ actions were appropriate and verified by body worn video and other evidence.” But, additional inaccuracies by other officers in the Metro Division have led Moore to assign 10 officers to home and received suspended peace officer powers until the investigations are completed.
In addition, Moore revealed that another group of nine officers has been assigned to non-field duties while the department reviews inaccuracies in reports that the officers submitted. “There is much left to do on this investigation and what number of all these officers I talked about, ultimately the investigation proves that misconduct occurred; I withhold that estimation until I actually see the final investigation,” said Moore.
He noted that approximately 24 personnel are assigned to the investigation and he is working with the Justice System Integrity Division of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office. Also, Moore requested that the assistance of the Office of Constitutional Policing, an independent arm of the LAPD, in the investigation.
“First of all, integrity is an expectation of every member of this organization and when that integrity is reached or broken, then there is absolutely no temperament or safe haven for that individual,” said Moore. “There is no place in this organization for a person who would falsify information.
“But what I want the public and South Los Angeles citizens and community members to recognize is just how strong the action has been by the organization and that I, as a chief, embarrassed by this. I am very discouraged that this happened or apparently has happened and I am committed to ensuring that there are consequences and it is clearly understood that this type of failure will not be tolerated or excused,” stressed Moore.
“Secondly, the efforts of Metropolitan Division, I believe the vast majority of men and women who work that command are outstanding police officers of the highest caliber and qualification and this is not representative of their work. However, I also recognize over the past couple years with the expansion of Metro and the added focus, the communities – particularly in South Los Angeles and communities of color – that those proactive crime suppression efforts were engaged caused more problems with building trust than in restoring or deepening our trust.
And which is why I…significantly reorganized Metropolitan Division and their primary focus now is to support local detectives and investigators on identifying individuals involved in shooting violence and other serious crimes. And once those individuals are identified, going out and bringing them before the criminal justice system,” Moore said.
“I am proud of the work of Metro in the sense that they have now shifted and they now are supporting these investigations at a local level and achieving I believe good results,” insisted Moore. “But to the public, it’s a long answer to say that we hear them, we are aware of the concerns, we are going to investigate and take this investigation where it goes and there will be consequences for those who fail.”