What Is the LAPD Scandal?

Newspapers lately have been filled with reports of widespread corruption in the Los Angeles Police Department. The New York Times called it the LAPD’s worst corruption scandal in  60 years. What is the gist of the story?

The scandal began as a limited investigation of two officers in the LAPD’s Rampart Division, which covers eight square miles west of downtown. Officer David Mack was arrested in late 1997 for robbing a bank of more than $700,000. A few months later, his former partner, Rafael Perez, stole 8 pounds of cocaine from police evidence lockers. Believing that the two crimes were connected, investigators began to examine whether other Rampart officers participated in or knowingly overlooked such misconduct.

Last week, Perez agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in exchange for a lighter sentence. Since then, he has accused several officers of dealing drugs, making wrongful arrests, planting evidence, and abusing suspects. He contends that such abuses of power are common–and largely ignored–in the specialized anti-gang and anti-drug units of the Rampart Division. 

Twelve officers have been suspended so far. Perez’s revelations have also forced the department to revisit hundreds of cases that may have relied on false testimony or evidence. One inmate was released after Perez admitted that he and his partner shot the man and then planted a gun on him so they could claim self-defense. Investigators are now examining at least one other shooting–this one fatal–that Perez has called “dirty.” The LAPD could face multi-million-dollar lawsuits from victims of wrongdoing.

No one has established any direct connections among the various crimes yet. But federal officials are planning to investigate whether the alleged misdeeds are “pattern and practice” on the force.

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