Resources, Selection and Training 2007-08

Posted 12/14/08

SHERIFF BACA’S “POLICE ACADEMY”

TV reality shows and police training don’t mix

     By Julius (Jay) Wachtel. “The show worked to the detriment of the trainees...they didn't have a real chance to say no to being televised...people called them out as they worked in the jails because they recognize them from TV....”  That’s what Michael Gennaco, chief of L.A. County’s Office of Independent Review recently said about “The Academy,” a popular reality TV series that depicts the travails of rookies going through the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s academy.

     For reasons that we’ll get into later Gennaco and his small team of lawyers had been asked by the Board of Supervisors to look into goings-on at the academy, and the reality show in particular.  What they found out wasn’t pretty.  “Nearly all” the ex-cadets they interviewed -- about twenty percent of those in the two classes that were filmed -- would have preferred not to have cameras around.  A few also said that they were deeply humiliated by having their screw-ups broadcast for friends, family and future coworkers to see.

     Of course, not even the Sheriff can make appearing on TV a condition of employment. Still, while cadets could opt out, they would have been rescheduled for another class, an unpalatable delay considering that some if not most had quit their regular jobs and had no other source of income. Although Gennaco didn’t mention it, cadets must have also worried about saying “no” at this early stage in their careers.  As it turned out only two trainees sat out the first class; none did so for the second, when more advance warning was given.

     So far there have been two seasons, a total of 21 half-hour episodes, aired in Spring 2007 and Spring 2008.  All are available for viewing on Hulu.  Enjoy!

     Police academies are much like conventional places of learning, with most instruction taking place in classrooms.  Naturally, no TV audience could be expected to sit through lectures on law and procedure, and considering the average viewer’s attention span sexier topics like shooting, arrest techniques and pursuit driving would also get ho-hum after a while. Desperate for the “dramatic arc” that even reality shows need, editors constructed narratives around recruits who were having trouble.  Will Cadet Smith, a none-too-bright fellow on his second go-round (he already flunked out once for academic reasons) pass the final? Will Cadet Jones, who can’t hold up a pistol long enough to place a well-aimed shot, qualify on the range? Will Cadet Williams ever get over that wall?

     These are made-up names.  But in the episode summaries posted on the show’s website, everything was for real.  Here are some examples from the second season:

    Episode 2. Recruit Paez struggles as the first class sergeant, and Deputy Miley gives her an ultimatum. Recruit Villareal finds himself in hot water when the drill instructors learn he went out to a club rather than studying.

    Episode 3. Recruit Villareal is on the hot seat as the new class sergeant.  Then he leaves his locker unlocked with his newly issued gun inside.

    Episode 4. Class 368’s first trip to the shooting range is a disaster when Recruit Valladores can’t figure out how to shoot his weapon.

    Episode 5. Recruit Marquez worries that her cancer has returned; the staff confidently appoints Recruit Leos to the role of class sergeant, but the class doesn’t follow her lead.

    Episode 6. Recruit Santos is in a bind when she can't lead the group. The recruits have a big argument while the drill instructors figure out how to get them to work better as a team.

    Episode 7. A few careless recruits are in hot water after their weapons are stolen from their vehicle. Santos fights for her job as she struggles with all aspects of the training.

    Episode 9. Recruit Villareal continues to disappoint the drill instructors and Class 368. Recruit Turner and others face separation as they retake the final test...just days before graduation.

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     Happily for producers the L.A. Sheriff’s academy follows the boot-camp “stress” model, so there was always a drill instructor available to holler at trainees. In one scene a towering D.I. who clearly loves being on camera ridiculed a plebe who dared mention that students felt too intimidated to ask questions. (That happens to be one of the many problems with “stress” academies.) Strutting down a row of her peers, all standing rigidly at attention, the D.I. demanded of each whether they felt free to ask questions.

     They left jobs and civilian life to become cops.  Answering incorrectly would instantly land them in the bulls-eye. What could they say but “yes?”

     While Sheriff Baca reveled in the show’s success, happily boasting that it offered an unparalleled view of the leading training program of its kind in the nation, the overseer of police training in California, the Peace Officers and Standards Training commission, was about to revoke the facility’s accreditation.  For months its inspectors had been loudly complaining, to no observable effect, that in its rush to process a large influx of rookies, many of whom seemed barely qualified to become peace officers, the academy was providing a poor learning experience.

     The actual list of deficiencies is far too extensive to go into here. Among the more serious complaints were employing uncertified instructors, using confidential test materials as teaching guides (i.e., essentially “teaching to the test”), providing test questions in advance, and having academically challenged cadets retake exams until they passed.  Indeed, one episode of “The Academy” depicted a trainee who was already on his second tour trying to make up several failed exams at one sitting.  Not only did he fail again, but he was unbelievably brought back to the academy for a third try. Inspectors also criticized the TV show for distorting the training experience and depriving cadets of an opportunity to make goofs without fear of humiliation.

     By May 2008 it was painfully clear that the State hammer was about to fall.  When the second season’s filming was over Sheriff Baca took the extraordinary step of shutting the door, pushing back the start of the next training class by a month. A top manager was quietly reassigned.  State officials mentioned that it was only the second such closure in memory.  Worried that his nifty P.R. and moneymaking scheme (it earned $250,000 for the department in its first two seasons) was corkscrewing, Baca struggled to put the best possible spin on the situation. That’s when the normally laid-back Board of Supervisors finally stepped in and ordered the OIR to study the root causes of the academy’s problems, including “whether and how the filming of a reality television show focused on Sheriff’s trainees at the Academy has impacted the quality of the training program.”

     At this point it’s uncertain if there will be an “The Academy” Season Three.  A far more important question is whether the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and Sheriff Baca have learned anything from the imbroglio. Yes, there was more going on at the academy than what following around a bunch of self-absorbed drill instructors could possibly reveal.  Surely many positive things were happening. Yet, as POST pointed out, degrading cadets and filming their flub-ups hardly seems the best way to convey the skills of policing.

     Will the LASD continue along the “stress” path or adopt the more level-headed, collegiate training style favored by the LAPD? As they say in Hollywood, stay tuned!

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Posted 10/19/08

COPS MATTER

Sharp cuts in police threaten community safety

     By Julius (Jay) Wachtel.  Do cops really matter?  Just ask Pontiac (Mich.) resident Larry Trammell, who says that with choppers hovering and bullets flying living in the besieged city is like being in Iraq. Or ask police chief Valard Gross, who’s trying to protect 66,000 citizens with a grand total of sixty-five officers. That comes out to 0.98 officers per 1,000 population, less than half the national average of 2.4/1000.

     It wasn’t always like that. As recently as four years ago the working class community fielded 170 sworn officers.  But as industrial employment collapsed severe budgetary shortfalls beset cities across the Northeast. Pontiac responded with layoffs.  By the end of 2007 police headcount had dropped to about 100, and when citizens refused to pass special levies dozens more were let go in the following months.  This November voters will get a chance to raise taxes and bring back 15 officers. If that doesn’t work, it’s been reported that the Chief will resign.

     It’s usually difficult to isolate the impact of any individual factor on crime.  Here, though, we have a “natural experiment.”  During the past few years, while population remained about the same, Pontiac’s police force was slashed by sixty-two percent.  While we can’t know what crime would have looked like had these cops not vaporized, we can compare crime trends in Pontiac with communities that didn’t experience large changes in population or police staffing. We chose two Michigan cities: the larger and more affluent Lansing, and the slightly smaller and less affluent Saginaw.

     Between 2003-2007 officer/population ratios in the most well-to-do community, Lansing, nudged up from 2.11 to 2.12 per 1,000. In Saginaw, the least prosperous, an already low ratio of 1.83 fell moderately, to 1.74.  But in Pontiac it plunged, from a relatively healthy 2.56 in 2003 to 1.98 in 2007 and an abysmal 0.98 in 2008 (current data for the other cities is not available.)  Violent crime tells a similar story, trending up slightly in Lansing from 10.3 to 11 per 1,000, increasing somewhat more steeply in Saginaw, from 27.2 to 29.4, but rocketing from 13.8 to 18.8 in Pontiac. Homicides this year in Pontiac already exceed the 2007 total, so it’s likely that this trend will continue. (FBI officer data 2003 2007;  FBI crime data 2003 2007.)

     In brief, the data support the conclusion that sharp cuts in police staffing in Pontiac contributed to a dramatic increase in violent crime.  Keeping in mind that this is an extreme example, it does suggest that cops are a good thing.  But affording them is something else again. During 2003-2007 the richest city, Lansing (1999 median income $34,833, percent below poverty level 16.9) enjoyed the best police coverage, while the poorest, Saginaw (1999 median income $26,485, percent below poverty level 28.5) had the worst.

     You can thank decentralization. In America police are controlled and funded by municipalities, whose budgets for everything from street maintenance to schools, fire and police come almost exclusively from local sources such as sales, property and city income taxes. Consider the writer’s home state of California.  Using 2000 Census and 2007 FBI data, we compared police staffing and violent crime in the working class city of Inglewood (pop. 115,223, median income $34,269, 22.5% below poverty level) with the middle to upper-middle class community of Burbank (pop. 104,871, median income $47,467, 10.5% below poverty level) and, for fun, the disgustingly rich enclave of Beverly Hills (pop. 35,133, median income $70,945, 9.1% below poverty level).

     First the good news.  Inglewood (190 officers, 1.65/1,000) actually enjoys a somewhat higher officer ratio than Burbank (154 officers, 1.47/1,000). Now for the bad news.  In 2007 Inglewood had 1,036 violent crimes and 19 murders, while Burbank had 274 and 3.  That’s right, Inglewood had nearly four times more violent crime than Burbank.  Correcting for population, Inglewood’s violent crime ratio, 8.9/1,000 is more than three times Burbank’s 2.6. Inglewood may have a few more cops, but its crime problem is far more severe.

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     With Beverly Hills the contrast is even starker.  Inglewood has three times the population, twice the violent crime rate and infinitely more murders (it had nineteen, while Beverly Hills had zero.)  But its officer/population ratio is less than half that of the city known as “90210,” whose 130 cops yield a stratospheric ratio of 3.7 officers per 1,000.

     Decentralized police and regressive funding have created terrible inequities in police services, with the impact falling most severely on the usual victim: the working-class American.  One solution might be to create State-controlled pools to subsidize localities such as Pontiac and Inglewood that are beset by violent crime. No matter their station in life, citizens have a right to equal protection under the law.  That should mean equal police protection as well.

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Posted 9/21/08

WHAT SHOULD IT TAKE TO BE HIRED?

Loose hiring standards and City Hall interference produce inferior recruits

   By Julius (Jay) Wachtel.  Pity poor Chicago PD Chief Jody Weis. Hired seven months ago to take control of a department beset by allegations of corruption and brutality, the former head of the FBI’s Philadelphia office vastly expanded the unit that investigates officer misconduct. Weis now faces a work slowdown by officers who complain that his penchant for severe discipline makes them reluctant to be proactive lest their actions draw citizen complaints.

     Weis doesn’t even have the final word on discipline.  As we reported last week, that’s the responsibility of an external citizens’ board, which regularly turns down the Chief’s attempts to fire misbehaving officers.  In one noteworthy example they refused to terminate a cop who had been convicted of misdemeanor assault for beating up a handcuffed citizen.  (Weis then had the officer charged with Federal civil rights violations, enraging officers who said their colleague had been punished enough.)

     What about hiring?  Weis doesn’t have the final word there, either. That’s the province of the “Human Resources Board,” comprised of three citizens appointed by the Mayor. Although board members admit that nothing requires them to consider appeals by rejected applicants, they’ve done so by the hundreds, reversing nearly forty percent of the department’s decisions. Those who got a break include gang associates, drug users, spouse beaters and general-purpose thugs. Chicago’s infamous aldermen even got the board to OK a (supposedly, former) drug dealer.  Many reinstated applicants had been turned away elsewhere, threatening to make Chicago PD a dumping ground for rejects.

     As Los Angeles City council member (and former LAPD Chief) Bernard Parks can attest, Weis’ travails are not unique. Stern, humorless and prone to impose heavy-handed discipline, Parks constantly butted heads with the union and the rank and file.  Like in Chicago, crime rose while arrests and field interviews declined. Then Rampart broke, and nothing’s been the same since.

     Rampart came to light because an officer got caught stealing cocaine. Otherwise it was mostly about police using evil means to go after bad guys.  Officers lied, planted evidence and brutalized suspects to get them to talk.  LAPD’s final report describes the pre-employment records of four of these cops:

    Officer 1. “Sold marijuana to two other students on one occasion while he was in high school. At age 15, the police detained him for investigation of tampering with vehicles on a car sales lot....the Police Department recommended his disqualification, but it was overturned by the Personnel Department.”

    Officer 2. “...had been arrested as an adult for grand theft. The incident occurred when he struck a public bus driver during a dispute over a transfer. When the driver's watch fell to the ground, the officer picked it up and began walking away, which resulted in his arrest. The Department did not recommended his disqualification.”

    Officer 3. “...admitted losing his temper during arguments with his wife and pushing her on six different occasions. He was psychologically eliminated due to "temperament/impulse control. However, he was eventually cleared for hiring by the Personnel Department psychologist.”

    Officer 4. “...had been arrested three times before he became an officer at the age of 24. As a juvenile, he was arrested for stealing hubcaps. As an adult, he was arrested and convicted of driving under the influence (DUI). One year before his hire, he was cited for having an open container of an alcoholic beverage in his car and was arrested for driving on a suspended license (suspended from the earlier DUI) for which he was sentenced to ten days in jail. In the military, he was disciplined for disobeying a lawful order. His background investigation disclosed that he ‘loses his cool very easily’ over minor incidents, and acted like a ‘big macho man.’ The psychological examiner advised the Personnel Department that there was not enough negative information to warrant his disqualification.”

     Here is what the report said about the decisions to hire these four:

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    “While it is impossible to substantiate completely, it appears that the application of our hiring standards was compromised when these officers were hired during periods of accelerated hiring in the late 1980s and early 1990s. This is not to say that anyone intended to do so. But, one need only look at the pre-employment histories of these four people to see that something was seriously wrong when they were approved for hire. We must recognize that [erosion of standards] has occurred and commit ourselves to never sacrificing quality for the expediency of numbers.”

     Parks didn’t get a second term. In 2002 he was replaced by Bill Bratton, a New York transplant made famous by his much-ballyhooed Compstat.  Two years later, facing an officer shortage, Bratton quietly relaxed hiring standards, taking on cops with credit issues and other “gigs” that would have disqualified them in earlier days. Applicants could even admit that they experimented with cocaine.  It took the City Council two years to find out. Irate to have been left out of the loop, three council members, Parks, Dennis Zine (a reserve officer and former Sergeant), and Greig Smith, another reservist, bitterly criticized the Chief for lowering the standards.

     What was “Hollywood Bill’s” reaction? He shrugged it off, claiming that it’s never been tougher to get hired on.  After all, every applicant now has to take a polygraph! What he didn’t say (maybe because he didn’t know) was that the National Academy of Sciences found polygraphs unreliable for screening employees.

     Loosening rules has been tried elsewhere, with predictable consequences.  Burned by poorly-educated applicants and lax hiring practices, the Washington D.C Metropolitan Police now require either 60 college credits, three years military service or five years prior police experience. According to a spokesperson, “it does make recruiting harder [but] in the long run, it’s supposed to make for a better officer and a better department.”  Chicago PD also requires two years of college or a combination of college and military.  Meanwhile the famous LAPD doesn’t even ask for a high school diploma: all that’s necessary is either a GED or passing the California High School Proficiency Examination, which any reasonably bright 16-year old can do.  How might this affect the agency’s ability to field a literate, analytically-skilled workforce?  Gee, let’s think...

     Hiring cops is a complicated issue and we don’t propose to have all the answers.  Let’s give L.A. City council member Dennis Zine, a career LAPD officer, the last word:

    “I understand that the pool of people who want to be police officers is limited, but if you look at the history of the department, and the scandals we have had, we don’t want to add to that problem.”

     Enough said.

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Posted 5/4/08

A TOWN WITHOUT PITY

Seattle lures police candidates from other cities

How can we keep love alive
How can anything survive
When these little minds tear you in two
What a town without pity can do.
© Gene Pitney

     By Julius (Jay) Wachtel.  “The Emerald City.” Sounds enticing, doesn’t it? But don’t let that fool you.  Neither software giant Microsoft nor coffee king Starbucks got where they did by being nice to competitors. Why should the community that hosts their world headquarters, Seattle, be any different?

     It’s not. That huge billboard isn’t in Seattle or, indeed, anywhere in the Pacific Northwest. It’s on the opposite side of the continent, in New York City, not far from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, a branch of the City University of New York that educates the cops and corrections officers of the Eastern metropolis.

     Why would Seattle be looking for cops in the Big Apple? Why would the yuppie kingdom dispatch recruiters three-thousand miles to give a full range of entrance exams and chat up potential candidates? Maybe it’s because the sharks smell blood. In a June 2005 tussle with the police union, New York cut the salaries of academy rookies forty percent, to the pitifully low level of $25,100.  Meanwhile, Seattle’s officers, whose cost of living is a full twenty percent lower, start  at nearly twice as much, $47,335, with a plan to increase that to $64,000 by 2010.

     But wait a minute.  Are New York’s finest secretly rooting for the bad guys, hoping that Seattle proves their point?  If so, they’re playing a dangerous game.  Slumping city revenues caused by problems on Wall Street make salary hikes unlikely in the near term. In the meantime NYPD has been hemorrhaging so many officers that its authorized strength was recently slashed by one-thousand positions. And why not? The department is already short more than twice that many cops, with no relief in sight.

     Seattle PD isn’t the only agency probing the ends of the Earth in pursuit of warm bodies. When not prowling L.A. college campuses Phoenix PD has been luring prospects at the University of Toledo (yes, in Ohio.) According to a PPD spokesman, "The quality of candidates [in Toledo] is fantastic. This is a goldmine for people like us...There is an abundance of people here looking for jobs. It's a perfect marriage."

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     What’s the difference, you ask? Plenty.  Seattle is shamelessly taking advantage of salary differentials to steal away recruits from a city beset by a shortage of police.  On the other hand, Phoenix, one of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the U.S., has targeted an area of high unemployment.  Hard-hit by a decline in manufacturing, Toledo isn’t gaining residents; it’s losing them.  Its police aren’t hiring.  Unlike Seattle, Phoenix isn’t bleeding a community dry: it’s doing it a favor.

     Is the “Emerald City” embarrassed?  Au contraire. As recruiter Monique Avery bragged to a New York Daily News reporter,  "We get people who go, 'Whoa! It's going to take me a long time [in the NYPD] to get to even your beginning salary.’ And our cost of living is a lot less." It turns out that this isn’t Seattle PD’s first crack at Gotham.  Last year a smaller mission proved so successful that they couldn’t wait to return to steal more candidates.  And that’s not all: this time around they’re also going for in-service officers.  "We are not coming to New York to specifically target NYPD officers,” Monique said.  “I pray that they get a huge raise. They are definitely welcome to apply, but we are encouraging everyone who is interested to apply."

     Coming to New York but not targeting the NYPD? Praying that NYPD officers get a raise?  Instead of hustling for Seattle, Monique ought to be in politics.  She seems amply qualified!

     What to do? According to the Seattle city website, Mayor Greg Nickles wants to hear from you. So don’t disappoint him!  Tell him exactly what you think of this thoughtless, opportunistic behavior.  While you’re at it be sure to remind him that cities aren’t like Microsoft and Starbucks: they’re public trusts, whose behavior is measured by a different yardstick.

     Just in case that while using Windows™ and sipping a Pike Place Roast™ he might have forgot.

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Posted 4/13/08

AT LEAST THEY’RE CONSISTENTLY LOUSY

Using sworn deputies for custodial work makes for poor cops and lousy jailers

     By Julius (Jay) Wachtel.  Who’s steering the ship?  That’s what inquiring minds want to know. After an exhaustive investigation prompted by the death of Derek Chamberlain, a 41-year old inmate, the Orange County District Attorney issued a report calling vigilance at the Theo Lacy jail, a large complex that houses more than 3,000 prisoners, “the exception as opposed to the rule.” On the same day a judge overruled County lawyers and granted motions by the Los Angeles Times and Orange County Register to release transcripts of Grand Jury testimony about jailhouse practices. These described a stunning culture of sloth and unconcern, with deputies falsifying logs, watching T.V., text messaging and sleeping while inmates known as “shot callers” roamed the facility on their behalf, keeping the peace and administering punishment at will.

     Among those called to testify was recently dethroned Sheriff Mike Carona, who took the Fifth when asked if he was the Sheriff when the killing took place (he was, but wouldn’t say so), a deputy who allegedly precipitated the killing by telling inmates in advance that the victim was a “child molester” (he denied it), and another who admitted sharing grand jury testimony with the accused deputy after twice saying she didn’t. If that wasn’t enough, then-undersheriff Jo Ann Galinsky, whom former Sheriff Mike Carona appointed to head the department while he fought Federal corruption charges, admitted altering a key document, leading grand jurors to incorrectly believe that the Sheriff’s Department, rather than the District Attorney, was the lead investigative agency when prisoners died.  (The particular incident that led to the inquiry was the first of 129 in which Sheriff’s officials did not call in D.A. investigators.)

     Once the newspapers blew the whistle, acting Sheriff Jack Anderson suspended six deputies and called in the FBI to investigate possible civil rights violations. Against vociferous opposition from the deputies’ union, Anderson also renewed his call to replace sworn jail deputies with correctional officers, arguing that civilian jailers are more likely to act professionally as they would be hired for that purpose only.  At present new deputies must work at the jails for as many as six years before going on patrol, a delay that is projected to double once a large, new correctional facility is opened. Not only are jail deputies compensated the same as those on patrol, who have a far more complex and dangerous work environment, but they can earn huge amounts of overtime (a 2007 Grand Jury report revealed that nearly 600 Theo Lacy inmates are guarded by officers on overtime.)

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     Unlike most other Sheriff’s Departments, those in Los Angeles and Orange counties use sworn deputies as jail guards. Thirty years ago new deputies worked at the jail for only a year.  However, as jail populations climbed and soaring salaries and benefits brought SoCal officer/population ratios to levels half that of New York, an increasing proportion of deputies have been assigned to jail duty.  Aside from being costly, inefficient and, perhaps as Sheriff Anderson implies, ineffective, the shift had a profound impact on the experience level of Sheriff’s field personnel.

     Patrol and investigation are complex, demanding tasks that cannot be learned while working in a jail. While police officers are “on the road” from their first day out of the academy, L.A.-area deputies must now wait years to hit the streets, meaning that most are still learning to be cops after as long as a decade of wearing the badge.  Worse, once they promote they are likely to go right back to the jail, leaving many who attain high rank with little field experience to fall back on. It’s a no-brainer to conclude that citizens are far more likely to get quality patrol and investigative services from a police department than a Sheriff’s office whose deputies spend the bulk of their careers doing custody work.  An anecdote that illustrates this point is the out-of-control behavior by a contingent of L.A. County deputies who fired on a drunk driver 120 times after he led them on a slow-speed chase through a Compton neighborhood. (The scared deputies mistakenly thought that the man was armed.  He was recently awarded more than $1 million by a civil court jury.)

     Union influence and an abiding suspicion of outsiders make law enforcement agencies impervious to criticism, and even more so when headed by an independent elected official.  In Orange County, though, we presently have only an “acting” Sheriff, whose selection to complete the remaining years of the previous Sheriff’s term is up to the Board of Supervisors. For the first time in recent memory the possibility of real change is in the air.  Let’s hope it’s not just another Santa Ana wind.

     p.s.  If you don’t get the pun, and would like to, please feel free to e-mail.

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Posted 3/16/08

KEEPING OUR EMPERORS CLOTHED

What did we know about Eliot Spitzer and Mike Carona?  Very little.

     By Julius (Jay) Wachtel.  When a bad boy gets his due we hardly notice. It’s far more interesting when someone who pretends to be trustworthy gets caught with his hands in the cookie jar.  And if it’s a celebrated do-gooder, a real-life Dudley Do-Right, it’s positively newsworthy.

     So it is with Eliot Spitzer.  Whether Governor “steamroller” is simply an extreme example of an Alpha male, and his downfall the product of a voracious appetite for risk and excitement, seems hardly the point. Pop psychology doesn’t cut it for an insanity defense. And a defense he will need, as allegedly soliciting a prostitute to cross State lines and allegedly structuring cash transactions to circumvent reporting requirements are both Federal felonies, crimes that when committed by a man who was until recently a State Attorney General seem awfully hard for authorities to ignore.

     Not that our Easterner friends would notice, but those of us on the opposite coast had someone to brag about only last year, when an illustrious member of very our crime-and-justice nobility, Orange County Sheriff Mike Carona, once crowned by Larry King as “America’s Sheriff,” brought his long-suffering wife and alleged mistress along for his perp-walk.  (Carona was Federally indicted for allegedly selling special favors.  His missus and mistress were also charged.  Whatever we do in the Golden State, we do it together.)

     Perhaps in the big picture -- what social scientists call the “aggregate” -- psychological factors do matter.  Science will one day reveal what made Dustin Hoffman like “mature” women, and we could then market the powder to Alpha males. In the meantime, what’s to be done?  If as “control theories” suggest we’re all incurably selfish, getting us to do the right thing requires that we strengthen the forces that prevent or inhibit the behavior we’d like to extinguish.

     How would that apply here?  First, let’s look at the supply side. Exactly what did we know about Eliot Spitzer when he ran for New York State Attorney General? About Mike Carona when he ran for Orange County Sheriff? Other than being good Party boys -- ahem, meaning political party -- very little.  Since both are elective positions, neither endured the detailed vetting required of prospective street cops or assistant D.A.’s. Neither had to provide references, reveal their credit history, give authorization for criminal and civil records checks, or state whether they had ever been investigated or discharged for unethical or criminal behavior. Their background was left for reporters to check, or not, as they saw fit.

     Not that there weren’t some worrisome signs.  In 1994, four years before winning the race for Attorney General, Spitzer publicly denied that his first, failed attempt at his Party’s nomination was financed by a secret multi-million dollar loan from his father.  It was, as he was later forced to admit, a lie, one that could have resulted in prosecution.  Carona’s entire work experience before being elected Sheriff was as a Marshal, in effect a bailiff. His political connections helped him rise to the top of an obscure agency that however grandly named was nothing more than a guard service and process server for local courts.

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     Had either Spitzer or Carona sought an equivalent appointive position, their applications would have had to pass the scrutiny of a board of qualified experts, not a room full of cigar-chomping political hacks. That lack of process, as New York just discovered, is a gift that keeps on giving. During his term in the State Senate, Spitzer’s replacement, Lieutenant Governor David A. Paterson, allegedly funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars of State funds to a hospital that hired his wife as its lobbyist. As the New York Times recently bemoaned, the new Governor “is about to face something new: serious scrutiny of his legislative record, political connections and handling of government money over two decades.”  That comes a bit late for those who “hired” him, don’t you think?

     Spitzer faced little “control” while in office. Once praised for taking on Wall Street abusers, the crusading A.G.’s record is being tarnished by complaints that he not only bullied and threatened his targets but anyone else who stood in his way.  Spitzer’s aggressive ways clearly infected his Governorship.  Only weeks after he was sworn in his staff got caught using the State Police to smear their boss’s political arch-nemesis, Republican State Senator Joseph L. Bruno. Needless to say, the Guv’s take-no-prisoners approach alienated his supporters and left him virtually without friends in the legislature. No going-away party there.

     Carona’s on-the-job record is hardly more reassuring. Moments after being sworn in he introduced a local cop with a questionable work record as his number-two man. He then started deputizing wholly unqualified contributors as sworn, gun-carrying reservists, going so far as to elevate one to Assistant Sheriff. (Oh, yes.  That one also got indicted.)

     As things stand elected officials usually get a “pass” from oversight.  With rare exception, when allegations of misconduct surface no one other than the press investigates.  But it doesn’t have to be that way. One of the most promising models for monitoring the conduct of elected officials is California’s Commission on Judicial Performance, which investigates allegations of ethical lapses and makes its findings public for everyone to see.

     When selecting candidates for positions like top cop or A.G. we need to know -- a lot.  And just as soon as someone’s elected active oversight must take over. Without a watchdog, being answerable to everyone is the same as being answerable to no one.

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Carona Five, Feds One


Posted 11/9/07

JUST HOW THIN IS L.A.’S THIN BLUE LINE?

How many cops does L.A. need?  How many can it afford?

     By Julius (Jay) Wachtel.  Determined to make good on his pledge to add a thousand cops post haste, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio V. ridiculed Councilman Bernie Parks’ call to limit this fiscal year’s hiring to no more than 226.  But Parks, a member of the Council’s budget committee, insisted that his number is all the budget allows, and even took a swing at his arch-nemesis, Chief “Hollywood” Bill Bratton, for chronic over-spending. Maybe it was only Bernie being Bernie; after all, it’s pretty obvious that he’s still nursing a grudge for only getting one term at the department’s helm. The ex-Generalissimo has been particularly hard on his replacement, criticizing him, among other things, for adopting the three-twelve plan, pulling senior lead officers off the street, relaxing hiring standards, bullying the homeless and, perhaps the most bitter pill of all, taking credit for the plunging crime rate -- a rate that was going down during Parks’ tenure.

     Ego battles aside, is Hizzoner right? Is our line that thin? Comparing Los Angeles and New York yields some tantalizing clues. Bill Bratton’s former stomping ground boasts an officer/citizen ratio nearly twice as high as Los Angeles’ (35,690 officers: 44.1/10,000 v. 9,393 officers: 24.6/10,000.) Since its residents are also stuffed into a much smaller geographical area, New York’s effective police presence is more than five times L.A.’s (321 sq. mi. = 111 officers/sq. mile v. 469.1 sq. mi. = 20 officers/sq. mile).  So that’s why cops seem so ubiquitous in the Big Apple! If we believe that a visible police presence helps deter crime, the fact that New York’s 2006 violent crime rate was twenty percent lower than L.A.’s makes perfect sense (637.9/100,000 v. 786.8/100,000).  NYPD’s arguable officer surplus also makes it far better positioned to staff specialized crime-fighting units and shift officers around in response to evolving crime patterns.

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     But can we really afford more cops? Raising L.A.’s trash rates might eventually get us over the 10,000 officer hump...but twice as many? How does New York pay for its army of blue-suits?  That’s easy: they pay them less -- a lot less.  Believe it or not, NYPD officers start at (don your breathing gear) $25,100 per year.  That’s right -- twenty-five thousand one-hundred, and not a nickel more!  But wait: after completing a six-month academy they’re bumped to...$32,700, which should at least get those without dependents off food stamps.  After five and one-half years NYPD patrol officers make $59,588, maybe as much as $70,000 including overtime. Does that sound better?  It’s only a hair above what an LAPD rookie starts at.

     Given Southern California police salaries, substantially changing L.A.’s police/citizen ratio would require huge infusions of cash.  (Since population density is low, greatly increasing police visibility is virtually a non-starter.)  Where would the money come from?  You guessed it: social services, trash collection, road repairs, park maintenance, etcetera.  For those old enough to remember, it was precisely the robbing Peter to pay Paul dilemma that led LAPD Lieutenant-turned-Mayor Tom Bradley to put the kabosh on the department’s expansion during the seventies and eighties.  Instead, we started paying officers better -- a lot better.  And now we’re caught in the horns of another dilemma.

     Is Parks just another ex-cop turning against the police?  Or does he recognize that L.A.  can’t afford many more cops?  Goals like “a thousand” might make for a great soundbite, but unless L.A. wants to wind up in a San-Diego-like financial meltdown it must come to grips with the short and long-term financial consequences of expanding the police.

     Quietly, rationally, just like Joe Friday would have done.

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A Larger Force


THE NEXT CHIEF OF POLICE SHOULD BE,
FIRST AND FOREMOST, A COP

Published in the Los Angeles Times, 9/12/02, p. B-15

     By Julius (Jay) Wachtel.  As the Times recently noted, “over the last 10 years, the LAPD has had three chiefs, all of whom left under fire.” Each time, community leaders winnowed through a pool of candidates, looking for that one charismatic leader who could single-handedly negotiate L.A.'s political and social minefields, boost officer morale and lift a supposedly foundering agency from its quagmire. All without costing an additional cent.

     Again, we're playing the same tune. Again, will it hit a sour note?

     Forget policing. Can the mess of health care, the shutdown of clinics, the unconscionable overcrowding of hospital emergency rooms be fixed by enlightened leadership alone? At the woefully underfunded LAPD pressures of business are so intense that doing a good job as a patrol officer is measured by how quickly one "clears" calls for service.  Many detectives cannot remember the days when "investigation" meant something more than picking up the telephone.  After decades of chronic short-staffing, time and attention are luxuries reserved for the most aggravated crimes.  Worse, with sergeants tied up on citizen complaints and paperwork, and senior lead officers distracted by other tasks, supervision – a difficult enough thing to accomplish in the decentralized atmosphere of police work – has for all purposes disappeared.

     When essential resources are seriously lacking attributing difficulties to poor "morale" or weak leadership is simply ridiculous. Lacking the money or political will to fix the real problem, exasperated officials have turned to an endless stream of remedies. One of the better known is "community policing", an appealing but frustratingly vague strategy that has generated volumes of rhetoric, supported the careers of many academics and created a fat bureaucracy in Washington. Still, as its implementation would require a great deal more police, not less, it is hard to see how this expensive fix could play in cash-strapped L.A.

     Reforming "police culture" is another enticing, feel-good fixative. Stripped to its essence, it promises something for nothing: that we can produce the equivalent of more police cars simply by having their present occupants recline on a couch.  Who wouldn't want a kindler, gentler force, better attuned to public needs?  But occupational "cultures" do not spring up in a vacuum. Police are shaped by their surroundings.  Humans might carry PDA's in their pockets, but they are Cro-Magnons at heart. Want nicer cops?  Breed nicer citizens. Naturally, achieving that end calls for a dynamic social and economic agenda, something far beyond the ability of even the most enlightened police leader to implement.

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     Still, if the money can't happen, morale is important, if for no reason other than to keep the few cops we have left. LAPD officers have always been in demand by smaller agencies, which offer less stress, shorter commutes and the luxury and autonomy of single-officer patrol cars.

     So we return to the question: who should be Chief? To earn the respect of the line, it must be someone who is deeply invested in the craft of policing. Moving through the ranks of larger agencies takes so long that ambitious employees often spend little time on the street.  Those who rapidly promote to administrative sinecures have sent a clear message – that they are not that interested in the real work of the police.

     Microsoft was created and continues to be led by talented engineers with an intimate knowledge of product and place. There is no difference here. A Chief is that one government executive who must know what makes cops tick. To energize a police organization and nudge it in the appropriate direction requires someone who understands the sensibilities of officers and the environment in which they operate. These characteristics are most likely present in candidates with a strong background in patrol and detectives, both as a line officer and first- and second-level supervisor.

     Policing is an honorable occupation. Its troubles are fundamentally troubles of the street. We need a Chief attuned to its many nuances, who knows enough to be skeptical of easy solutions, who can make a distinction (as the last Chief apparently could not) between working mistakes and willful misconduct.

     LAPD has many experienced Captains and Commanders who could rise to the occasion. Don't look for a big name.  Look for a big heart.

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