LAPD Defends Record on Employee Lawsuits

     LOS ANGELES (CN) - The Los Angeles Police Department already has reduced the city's liability for costly cases involving disgruntled employees, and an audit suggesting otherwise is out of date, LAPD officials told the Police Commission this week.
     Inspector General Alexander Bustamante put the LAPD on the defensive in June when he released an audit claiming the department does little to reduce the city's liability for tens of millions of dollars in employment litigation.
     The report said the LAPD's legal affairs division 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 June 27 audit found. Of that, $31 million, or 28 percent, was spent on claims involving sexual harassment, retaliation and discrimination.
     Responding to the audit in a letter to the police commissioners, Police Chief Charlie Beck said the sample of closed cases, filed from 2005 to 2012, relate to allegations made before August 2009.
     "This time period was before the current chief of police's appointment in November 2009 and the Department Risk Manager's (DRM) appointment in January 2012. Accordingly, the OIG's [Office of the Inspector General] audit does not represent the current state of employment litigation facing the department today under its current leadership, nor the activities that the current leadership has engaged in to reduce liability," Beck responded in a July 19 letter to the commission.
     Beck said the department agreed with "many points" in the audit but "disagrees with others."
     One point of contention is Bustamante's recommendation that the LAPD not destroy employment litigation files.
     Beck wrote in his letter that the city attorney's office is the "appropriate" place to store them, and said there was no need to keep duplicates.
     "All materials related to a lawsuit are maintained by the city attorney's office, and California law requires an attorney to make litigation files accessible to the client," Beck wrote.
     At a July 23 meeting, the L.A. Police Commission grilled police administrator Gerald Chaleff and department risk manager Beth Corriea on disparities between the department's letter and the audit.
     Police Commissioner Rafael Bernardino voiced concern that the letter ignored an executive directive to reduce the city's exposure to litigation.
     "I think we need to have the information, because I don't think we can always count on the city attorney to get us that information," Bernardino said of employment litigation case files.
     Commissioner Robert Saltzman was less worried about duplicate records than a perceived lack of "substantive" information within the department.
     "Nobody's asking you to maintain duplicate records. We're asking you about risk management efforts to avoid the problems of the future," Saltzman said.
     Chaleff attributed problems to "confusion" and "miscommunication" between the department and the inspector general's office, noting that all risk management files are maintained at Corriea's office.
     Chaleff said there had been a sharp drop in employee-related lawsuits, with just eight new filings this year. Thirty-one lawsuits were filed in the 2011-2012 fiscal year, he said.
     Saltzman suggested more needs to be done to bridge the gap between the audit's findings and the department's response.
     "This report in many ways says, 'We're already doing these things' or 'You looked at a time when things were different.' And I think that, in fact, if you look more carefully at the report, those things are inaccurate," Saltzman said.
     He urged the LAPD to consult with police unions to kick-start an employee mediation program.
     "A mediation program's only going to work if it's cooperative, if there's mutual trust, Saltzman said.
     During pubic comment, Kristi Eckard of the Los Angeles Police Protective League said the union would support the employee mediation program "providing it was administered outside the department."
     "If the department were willing to allay our concerns by having the commission or some other outside source administer the program, they will find a willing participant in the negotiations with the league," Eckard said.