Jul 112012
 

L.A. County sheriff recalls 200 badges given to local politicians

 

Los Angeles Times

by Robert Faturechi

by Jeff Gottlieb

July 10, 2012

 

 

This photo of a woman wearing the Sheriff’s Department badge of Cudahy Councilman Osvaldo Conde was released by the U.S. attorney’s office. (unknown / July 10, 2012)

 

 

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, which has faced criticism for handing out official-looking credentials to civilians with no law enforcement duties, is recalling an estimated 200 badges the department gave to local politicians, according to documents and interviews.

Sheriff Lee Baca‘s decision to recall the badges comes two weeks after the FBI arrested three city officials in Cudahy on bribery charges. In support of the charges, the U.S. attorney’s office released a photo of a smiling young woman in a Cudahy nightclub, brandishing two handguns and wearing a councilman’s badge on her chest.

One command-level sheriff’s official briefed on the badge recall said the move was prompted by the revelation in Cudahy. Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore, however, said that the timing was a coincidence and that a 2007 state attorney general’s warning prompted the call to return the badges.

Asked why it took more than four years for the Sheriff’s Department to take action on the attorney general’s legal opinion, Whitmore replied, “That’s a good question.”

The emergence of the Cudahy photo is the latest in a series of incidents in which official-looking credentials given to civilians by law enforcement agencies have come under scrutiny. Critics have long said badges and identification cards appeared to be rewards for political contributions and had the potential for abuse.

After a series of Times stories, California police chiefs and sheriffs were told by then-Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown in 2007 that handing out badges created the potential for civilians to falsely pose as law enforcement officers. The attorney general’s opinion covers any badge “that would deceive an ordinary reasonable person into believing that it is authorized for use by a peace officer.”

In the wake of the opinion, some agencies pledged to stop issuing the IDs and badges.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department recalled official-looking identification cards but continued giving badges to council members and city managers in cities that contracted for the department’s police services.

At first glance, the badges closely resemble those deputies wear, with the same six-pointed star design. Instead of identifying the person as a “deputy sheriff,” the badges read “City Official Los Angeles County.”

Whitmore said the badges were given to city officials for use during emergencies so they could pass through sheriff’s command posts. He estimated that about 200 badges will be recalled from about 40 cities.

Aside from the Cudahy case, Whitmore said he was not aware of any other incident in which a city official misused a badge. But civilian abuse of such credentials has been a problem in the past.

In the 1980s, the issue caught the attention of members of the county Board of Supervisors after they learned that “Hillside Strangler” Kenneth Bianchi had used a county emblem to pose as a police officer while luring his victims.

Prior to the attorney general’s 2007 opinion, two political contributors to the Riverside County sheriff told The Times they displayed their honorary badges during encounters with law enforcement. One used it to gain access to a secure area of Bob Hope Airport in Burbank. The other showed it to police officers serving a search warrant at his business.

About the same time, a Compton man was arrested after allegedly flashing Redondo Beach police officers a badge issued to him by a state assemblyman.

The Times also reported that Baca gave official-looking identification cards to members of his Homeland Security Support Unit, a civilian group that was staffed by many of his political donors.

According to an internal policy memo, the practice of giving badges to city officials has been going on since 1986. In fact, the policy was reexamined in 2010 but allowed to continue despite the attorney general’s warning on the matter three years earlier.

Whitmore said the photograph of the woman wearing Councilman Osvaldo Conde’s badge at the El Potrero nightclub in Cudahy was “a vulgar display.”

Three Cudahy officials were arrested June 22 as part of a federal investigation into allegations of corruption in the city’s government. Conde, then-Mayor David Silva and Angel Perales, the former head of code enforcement, are accused of taking a total of $17,000 in bribes from the owner of a medical marijuana dispensary who wanted to open a store in the city.

In a transcript of a secretly recorded conversation, Perales is quoted talking about “a crooked deputy.”

“Well, he just got transferred to Cudahy, but I knew all about him before … he came in,” Perales tells an FBI informant.

The two men talk about paying off the deputy. “Money makes the monkey dance,” Perales says.

Whitmore said department investigators looked into the allegation about a corrupt deputy and concluded that it was a “fabrication, it’s not real.”

 

Direct Link:  http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-sheriff-badges-20120711,0,7628614.story

Feb 292012
 

Hackers publish private information about L.A. police officers

Los Angeles Times

By Andrew Blankstein 

Twitter.com/anblanx

February 24, 2012

http://latimesphoto.files.wordpress.com/2011/05/police-memorial01.jpg

 

Photo: LAPD officers outisde police headquarters.

Credit: Los Angeles Times

 

 

The FBI is probing an Internet breach in which hackers publicly posted private information belonging to more than 100 local law enforcement officers who are part of the Los Angeles County Police Canine Assn.

Tony Vairo, a San Fernando police officer, who is president of the group, told The Times that they were contacted by the FBI Tuesday morning informing them that information belonging to its members, who include the Los Angeles police and Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies, had been compromised.

“I’m appalled that our website was breached,” Vairo said. “It’s not right and we will pursue it [a case] on every level, state or federal.”

Vairo described the FBI probe into the hacking incident as being part of an ongoing criminal investigation. FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller would not comment on what, if any, involvement the agency had in the case.

The incident, first reported Tuesday by CNET.com, comes two months after personal information about more than two dozen members of the Los Angeles Police Department’s command staff was anonymously posted on an Internet site.

In that case, the hackers posted officers’ property records, campaign contributions, biographical information and, in a few cases, the names of family members, including children. But that information was gleaned from public records.

Authorities said the current intrusion is different because the information gleaned from the association’s website was not available to the public.

Marshall E. McClain, president of the Los Angeles Airport Peace Officer’s Assn., which has three members whose information was compromised, said his association has contacted the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office to ask for a criminal investigation.

The postings were linked to from a publicly available Twitter account, where unnamed activists claimed responsibility for the information dump. The information was posted on a site that allows users to anonymously input data. This type of site has increasingly been used to post personal information of individuals who raise the ire of online activists. The practice is known as “doxing.”

 

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Direct Link:

Jan 162012
 

The Homicide Report

THE TIMES CHRONICLES L.A. COUNTY HOMICIDE VICTIMS

Showing 17 homicides from Jan. 1, 2012 to Jan. 8, 2012

Current view:
Homicides are grouped based on number of homicides in an area.
Click a group to zoom there.
Name Age Date
Gerardo Fernandez 20 1/8/12
Hector Hernandez 42 1/8/12
Alberto Cruz 38 1/7/12
Juan Nunez 34 1/7/12
Mark Miles 48 1/6/12
Jeff Pouncil Jr. 19 1/5/12
Richard Hughes 38 1/5/12
Jane Doe #1 0 1/4/12
Jazmyne Eng 40 1/4/12
Calvin Milner 62 1/3/12
Asia Sonnier 23 1/3/12
David Morales Jr. 18 1/3/12
Jimmie Jackson Jr. 21 1/2/12
Leobardo Esparza 50 1/2/12
Edwin John Jr. 18 1/2/12
Cristin Alvarez 28 1/2/12
Jude Burns Jr. 14 1/1/12
a 19-year-old Latino male, died Saturday, Jan. 29, 2011, after being shot in Westmont, according to Los Angeles County coroner’s records.

Homicides: Jan. 1, 2007 to Jan. 8, 2012

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The Homicide Report is the Los Angeles Times’ interactive map and database to track homicides in Los Angeles County and provide a forum for readers to remember victims and to discuss violence in their communities.
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Source: The Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles County coroner’s office
Credits: Sarah Ardalani, Megan Garvey, Thomas Suh Lauder, Maloy Moore, Anthony Pesce, Sandra Poindexter, Ken Schwencke, Doug Smith, Ben Welsh
In Case You Missed It…
Jan 012012
 

L.A.’s triumph over crime

More officers and better policing are among the key reasons L.A. is a much safer city today.

The graduation ceremony recruit officer class of October 2009.Across the nation, the homicide rate — the number of people killed per 100,000 population — increased from about four per 100,000 in the 1950s to about 10 in the early 1990s; since then, it has dropped to about 5.5. The decline in Los Angeles has been far greater: In 1993, the homicide rate was 30.5 per 100,000; this year, it’s on track to end at about six. (Los Angeles Times)

November 26, 2011

As families gather across Los Angeles and beyond, many will celebrate the holiday weekend with a joy they owe in part to this city’s historic triumph against crime. In the early 1990s, Los Angeles typically was the scene of more than 1,000 murders a year, a shocking toll that sapped the city’s self-confidence as it cut a devastating swath through neighborhoods, schools and, most tragically, families. It has become easy in recent years to expect crime to decline here, but it’s worth remembering how dangerous this city was compared with how safe it is.

As of mid-November this year, 254 men and women have been murdered in Los Angeles during 2011. That’s still a shocking number, but it means that some 800 families will enjoy this holiday without the shadow of murder. And that’s true year after year; those 800 families are merely those who escaped a tragedy in the last 12 months. Hundreds more would have suffered a loss in the previous year or years before, so the relief is as compounding as the tragedy once was.

That sea change in violence and its ramifications is part of a national trend, though the effects in Los Angeles have been particularly dramatic. Across the nation, the homicide rate — the number of people killed per 100,000 population — increased from about four per 100,000 in the 1950s to about 10 in the early 1990s; since then, it has dropped to about 5.5. The decline in Los Angeles has been far greater: In 1993, the homicide rate was 30.5 per 100,000; this year, it’s on track to end at about six. As city leaders like to note, not since Eisenhower was president has Los Angeles been this safe.

The reasons for this change have been widely studied, though not to a complete consensus. Social scientists have pointed to changing demographics — the aging of a youthful population that accounts for most violent crime — the waning popularity of crack, rising prison populations, gun control laws, even the legalization of abortion. The theory regarding abortion argues that unwanted children are disproportionately inclined to commit crimes, so limiting the number of such children also has had the effect of reducing crime. One provocative statistic: The decline in crime in high-propensity abortion states from 1985 to 1997 was 25.9%, while in low-propensity abortion states over the same period, crime increased 4.1%.

But two factors have commanded the most attention: the increased number of police officers, again nationally as well as in Los Angeles, and the adoption of new policing strategies, usually under the general definition of “community policing.” Both have been at work in Los Angeles for most of that period, and offer a persuasive rebuttal to social scientists who once doubted whether police had much to do with crime. Driven by improved statistical analysis and refined responses to crime trends — as well as renewed commitment to respect for constitutional rights — police are registering significant gains in systematically combating crime. Long and gratefully past are the days when chiefs such as Los Angeles’ Daryl F. Gates could argue that smaller, aggressive forces were in the public interest. Gates’ approach led to increased crime and public revulsion at police practices; the opposite has bolstered confidence in police and driven down crime. The impact of modern policing, both in numbers and in approach, is validated by the work of the LAPD in recent decades, as it is in New York and elsewhere. Today, few criminologists argue that police are irrelevant.

There is, in addition, a growing body of literature on the effects of this historic decline in crime, especially murder. For every crime there is a cost — property that is lost, medical bills to pay, work days missed and the more difficult-to-measure effects of psychological damage to survivors. One study by researchers at Iowa State University in 2010 concluded that the societal cost of a single murder — including the cost to victims, to the criminal justice system and to the lost productivity of offenders, as well as a complicated measure known as the “willingness to pay” to prevent murder — exceeds $17 million. By that calculation, the savings to Los Angeles of eliminating 800 murders a year since the early 1990s comes to more than $1.36 billion annually. As those researchers noted “In addition to the lives that are lost and shattered, murder also denotes extraordinary collateral fiscal costs.”

No family that has lost a relative to murder ever entirely recovers. The empty seat at Thanksgiving may be occupied, but the hole left by an absent son or daughter, a missing mother or father, never again is filled to the brim. This weekend in Los Angeles, 800 families enjoy a holiday that would have been barren by comparison had they lost a loved one this year to a murder. That is a social victory for which every resident of this city should be appreciative.

Nov 082011
 

LASD Jail Probe: Chickens Come Home to Roost
Sheriff Lee Baca has not been taking care of business in his jails, and the eruption of numerous scandals threatens to tarnish his department’s reputation.
 by Dean Scoville
October 31, 2011

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (my former agency) and the Los Angeles Police Department have historically tag-teamed their turns in the infamous limelight. Some cop will screw up, and the chief is called on the carpet; a deputy does something stupid and the sheriff is held to answer for it.

Regardless of who’s been at the helm of either agency, my reaction to their scandals has historically been one of ambivalence. That all-too-human part of me that enjoys the misfortune of otherwise privileged others—that human instinct that accounts for society’s intrigue with Lindsey Lohan’s shoplifting sprees, David Hasselhoff’s Heineken and hamburger diet, and Hugh Grant’s back alley courtships—always perks up when I’d see some honcho getting his ass chewed out.

Still, I’ve been objective enough to recognize that they are being held responsible for the transgressions of a relative few in their commands and that the vast majority of LASD and LAPD personnel are pretty good guys and gals.

As of late I am seeing something different, though. A series of simultaneous revelations calls into question just what kind of department L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca is helming. These revelations include tales of custodians staging fights inside the jails, visitors being beaten absent sufficient provocation, deputies beating the crap out of one another, and no less than Baca’s own recent admission that he has basically been clueless as to what was happening in his jails, the largest custody system in the otherwise free world.

True, Baca’s mea culpa came with a mitigating excuse as he cited a lack of candor from his executives as a contributing factor to his living life as a mushroom. Perhaps there’s something to it; his predecessor Sherman Block was criticized for having been insulated from many a sordid truth, too. Yet one would have thought that Baca might have learned from Block’s example and taken protections against falling victim to it, particularly as his history of Machiavellian success elsewhere would have suggested as much.

It is quite possible that Baca did try to keep abreast of things, only to find his efforts undermined by another all-too-human factor-the fear of alienating one’s self from the marginal affections of el jefe. Face it, nobody wants to get caught playing Mr. Blackwell—the fashion critic-to the emperor with no clothes.

It’s disingenuous to believe that with so much innuendo in the air and allegations in the pipeline that nobody in the LASD brass didn’t know what was going on. I have heard through the grapevine that one man actually did try to do something about the jail problem while it was under his watch and he ended up getting punitively reassigned for it. I don’t even like the man in question, and was surprised to hear of the incident as it smacked of a rare political misstep. But I will readily give the man his due: On this matter, he apparently tried to do the right thing.

Unfortunately, he belatedly learned a lesson that those of political ambition generally learn early in their career: the value of prudence. While it might be great to embrace outdated notions such as “meritocracy” and “fair play,” to try and do things by the numbers and believe that people ultimately would want to hear the sometimes unpleasant truth if it would save them from some greater heartache down the line, life sometimes disabuses you of such fantasies. Left-wing country signer Kris Kristofferson might be full of crap on a lot of things, but he was dead right when he wrote: “The truth remains that no one wants to know.” (Is it any wonder that my candor has found pea-brained administrators vilifying me more than they would others who routinely betrayed their confidences and who disparaged them behind their back?)

Whatever the reasons for Baca’s problems—and no doubt they are myriad—schadenfreude (taking delight in the suffering of others) means that there’s a terrible temptation for me to jump on the beatdown bandwagon (but then, is there ever a better time to kick a man than when he’s down?).

Knowing that ideas such as installing audio and video monitors in Men’s Central Jail were laughed off when I proposed them two decades ago makes my temptation toward schadenfreude all the stronger as my prescience has since been vindicated. And the reason given back in the day for not installing such technology? Supervisors were fearful that their interactions with subordinates would be taped.

One would think that there’d be little to inhibit me from criticizing Baca and company (they’ve got bigger fish to fry). But I always ask myself if in condemning some act, might I not be making myself even more of a hypocrite than the average man is resigned to being? Moreover, in calling further attention to yet another LASD drama, might I unnecessarily be further diminishing the reputation of a once fine department?

These are legitimate questions, variations of which could probably be asked of anyone who makes assertions of others.

But for my part, there are two things that encourage my willingness to comment:

One, Baca has put himself in the position to have his actions commented upon; indeed the man has campaigned for the privilege, and not just once.

Two, while people may not want to know the truth, it is better to point out the ways things actually are than to color-code them as they are not. A momentary sense of discomfort can sometimes save a helluva lot of pain and anguish later.

Finally, I’ve never been shy about acknowledging my own screw-ups and parceling them out over the years. No doubt, more will follow, such is my lot as a cautionary parable for the politically aspirant. One might think it exhibitionist zeal that accounts for my fessing up on having screwed around on duty (in every sense of the word). But aside from time, I have never stolen anything on duty.

When it comes to committing moral infractions, sliding down that silicone-enhanced slippery slope of ethics, and violating the law and all its permutations, I suspect the day will soon come when technology will leave damn little doubt as to our individual and collective credibility. And when that day arrives and the prevaricators and controverts are culled from the herd, there will be little doubt as to who did or did not do what had been expected of them, and who knew what and when (are you listening Eric Holder?). Those who have acted responsibly will get the belated recognition due them, and a greater accountability will be made of others.

I can’t say I’m really looking forward to that day, as I am sure that there are any number of questions that could be asked of me that would leave me either making a categorical denial or invoking the fifth.

But I’ll tell you what: These days, when it comes to the prospect of volunteering myself for some cutting-edge lie detection technology, I’d feel pretty confident about going up against many of the LASD upper echelon and coming out looking pretty damn good by comparison.

In the meantime, we will have to take Baca at his word when he says he really didn’t know what was going on in the jails. If he was truly ignorant of the sordid incidents, then at least he should be savvy enough to recognize that confession is good for the soul.

And contrition is great for the polls.

Direct Link: http://www.policemag.com/Blog/Patrol-Tactics/Story/2011/10/LASD-s-Chickens-Come-Home-to-Roost.aspx