The city of Los Angeles has paid out tens of millions dollars in lawsuits involving its police personnel since 2007, but because of shoddy record keeping can’t tell what, if anything, the police department has done to improve the situation.
The Los Angeles Police Commission’s inspector general, in a report (pdf) released last month, noted that the city had doled out $110 million between 2007 and 2012 for lawsuits filed on behalf of, and against, police. But for purposes of its study, Inspector General Alexander Bustamante focused on the $31.4 million paid to police personnel for job-related sexual harassment, retaliation and discrimination.
And that’s where it hit a wall.
LAPD had destroyed the case files, which are the basis for electronic databases used to track employment litigation, once they were closed. Without the case files, “the Audit was unable to determine the Department’s compliance” with a 2007 mayoral directive on how to reduce the city’s exposure to such lawsuits. In addition, the database itself was found to be at odds with similar information in the City Attorney’s database.
As a result, the inspector general couldn’t track the litigation costs based on billable hours put into the cases by investigators and attorneys. The litigation costs, $42.7 million, were larger than the $31.4 million in awards and settlements. There was also no record of steps taken to correct behavior that generated the lawsuits.
The $31.4 million for employment-related cases was nearly a third of all the money spent on lawsuits. $44 million was expended for “police professional liability” (e.g. excessive use of force), $31 million went to “auto liability” (e.g. traffic collisions) and $4 million was spent on “general liability.”
Courthouse News Service reported that the police commission’s response was not positive. “My reading is that it's a fail across the board,” Commissioner Rafael Bernardino said.
Looking for a silver lining in the cloudy report, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said, “The city has an incredible opportunity here to do much better.”
Bustamante said they should start by not destroying files.