Los Angeles Police Grilled on $30 Million in Liability Awards

     LOS ANGELES (CN) - The Los Angeles Police Department on Tuesday pushed back against a finding that it has done little to reduce the city's liability for tens of millions of dollars in jury awards and settlements to aggrieved police employees.
     The L.A. Police Commission met at LAPD headquarters downtown to address Inspector General Alexander Bustamante's employment litigation audit.
     The June 27 report revealed that the LAPD destroys case files, keeps inaccurate and incomplete information on lawsuits, and has no system to learn from workplace liability claims.
     In six years the city spent $110 million in jury awards or settlements for lawsuits involving LAPD personnel, the inspector general said.
     Of that amount, $31 million, or 28 percent, was spent on claims involving sexual harassment, retaliation and discrimination.
     Former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in 2007 issued an executive directive to reduce the city's exposure to litigation. But Bustamante said he can only guess whether the department is in compliance, since the LAPD Legal Affairs Division destroyed closed cases.
     Destroying case files prevented the inspector general from determining the accuracy of data in the Legal Affairs Division's electronic database, the report said.
     "OIG [Office of the Inspector General] attempted to audit 30 of these data fields for accuracy and completeness against source documents found in Legal Affairs Division's case files. Because these historical files do not exist, the OIG was unable to evaluate the accuracy and completeness of these data fields," the employment litigation audit states.
     Even without that finding, the inspector general said, the database is incomplete, and is "inconsistent" with information in the City Attorney's Office database.
     Calculating the cost of individual workplace liability lawsuits is problematic because neither the City Attorney's Office nor the LAPD tracks the hours attorneys and investigators spend on cases, the inspector general said in his report.
     "Although the OIG can calculate the amount the city paid in a particular case to satisfy a jury award or settlement, without knowing the number of individuals working on a particular case or the hours devoted to that case, the OIG is unable to calculate the litigation costs for any of the cases within its sample and therefore is unable to determine the total costs to the city related to a specific case," the audit states.
     For fiscal years 2006 to 2012, internal costs of defending workplace related lawsuits were roughly $42.5 million.
     The LAPD should do more to prevent employees filing similar complaints in the future, the inspector general said.
     "Although the department regularly provides managers with training on broad employment related issues, the OIG did not find evidence that the department provides training to its managers on lessons learned from these cases or specific guidance on how to handle particular employment-related issues. Furthermore, the department does not have a system to identify and analyze the at-risk behavior responsible for the adverse outcomes of these cases and then compare these findings with current department policies and practices," the report states.
     The inspector general said the LAPD should follow Mayor Villaraigosa's 2007 directive. The report recommended jump-starting an employee mediation program already developed by the commission, the city, and the LAPD to reduce the number of cases that reach settlement or go to trial.
     Among other recommendations, the inspector general urged the LAPD not to destroy files, wants it to maintain a complete and accurate litigation database, and train staff to prevent employment liability claims.
     At Tuesday's meeting Police Commissioner Rafael Bernardino called the report's conclusions "horrible."
     "My reading is that it's a fail across the board," Bernardino said.
     Police Chief Charlie Beck wasted little time in attacking the audit.
     With Bustamante seated to his right, Beck said the audit represented one "version of events," and urged the commission not to make any snap judgments.
     More measured than Bernardino in their criticism, Commissioner Richard Drooyan and Commission Vice President John Mack said the practice of destroying files was a concern.
     With no files to review, it was "impossible" for the LAPD risk management group to conduct a sufficient "lessons learned" analysis, Mack said.
     "Just look at the numbers," Mack said. "These numbers are off the charts in terms of the costs to the city."
     Mack said a mediation program had been on the table for years, and urged the department to implement it as soon as possible.
     Beck tried to justify his department's behaviors. "I think you have to put this in perspective," Beck said.
     He said the city was paying "less in total, less per capita, and less per officer" than New York City or Chicago, and that the LAPD was punching above its weight.
     "This is not just an L.A. issue," Beck said, "it's a law enforcement issue."
     Beck said he had spoken with new city attorney Mike Feuer to address how the City Attorney's Office, the LAPD's "partner in risk management," would tackle the issue of liability.
     "He is very desirous of an improved relationship, of a team effort in reducing liability," Beck said.
     The police chief said that neither he nor Feuer wanted to "place blame among the two departments."
     Police administrator Gerald Chaleff tried to chip away at the integrity of the report, suggesting that selected lawsuits filed between 1999 and 2009 (the audit report states that the cases were closed between 2007 and 2012) did not reflect the risk management practices of today's LAPD.
     "Things have changed, certainly for the better," Chaleff told the commission.
     Chaleff brushed off concerns about destroyed records, saying the City Attorney's Office maintained copies of complaints.
     "I don't see the efficacy to having duplicate sets of records," Chaleff said.
     Bernardino asked Chaleff if that meant the LAPD is not complying with Mayor Villaraigosa's directive.
     Chaleff didn't see it that way. He foresaw a "storage problem," if the LAPD kept files.
     Bustamante dismissed suggestions that the audit report was inaccurate.
     "There isn't the case that it's hyperbole by the IG's office, or we're talking about apples and oranges," he said. "There's a general agreement of what the facts and circumstances are. ... This isn't a situation where we just drop a report, and there is no conversation and we're not considering the other side," Bustamante said.
     Though conceding the LAPD did not maintain files, Chaleff appeared to want it both ways, saying police failed to produce requested cases because of a "communication issue."
     Bustamante said his staff "repeatedly" asked to see the files, and that he personally asked his staff to double-check with the LAPD legal affairs division.
     Chaleff, though, called the report "premature." He said he was confident the LAPD could work with Feuer to make the issues identified in the report go away.
     Chaleff said he saw the report for the first time last week, and said he was appearing in front of the commission on his day off.
     The commission set a deadline of July 23 for Chaleff to respond to the recommendations.
     As Chaleff grew more flustered and backtracked, Beck cut off the administrator, assuring the commission that the LAPD would meet the deadline.
     "The city has an incredible opportunity here to do much better," Beck said. "These are big organizations, that deal in conflict, and make life-and-death decisions, and there is some liability that accrues with that."
     Department risk manager Beth Corriea sat alongside Chaleff as he made his case to the commission.