An internal inspection at the Los Angeles Police Department has revealed an unknown number of patrol officers tampered with the communications and geolocation equipment on dozens of patrol vehicles in order to conceal the officers’ whereabouts and activities while on patrol.
According to the Los Angeles Times, an internal LAPD investigation found that antennas had been removed from nearly half of all the patrol cars in one South Los Angeles division, making it impossible for those units to record officers’ actions and speech while on duty.
Most of the transgressions emanate from the area of LAPD coverage that encompasses Watts and other neighborhoods in South Los Angeles, where tensions between residents and the police department have remained high. Out of a total of 160 antennas installed in cruisers that patrol that division, 72 had been removed, along with an additional 20 from other divisions.
LAPD leadership knew about the ongoing corruption before the most recent investigation, according to the Times, but elected to address it through memos and blanket security checks rather than pursue individual officers responsible for compromising their vehicles:
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and other top officials learned of the problem last summer but chose not to investigate which officers were responsible. Rather, the officials issued warnings against continued meddling and put checks in place to account for antennas at the start and end of each patrol shift.
Members of the Police Commission, which oversees the department, were not briefed about the problem until months later.
Cameras in the patrol cruisers are designed to switch on automatically whenever a cruiser’s emergency lights are activated, and can also be activated manually at other times. They record video of events that transpire in front of the vehicle; the officers also carry microphones and wireless transmitters that record audio from distances “hundreds of yards away from the car,” according to the Times.
“On an issue like this, we need to be brought in right away,” said Steve Soboroff, president of the Los Angeles Police Commission — the board of officials charged with oversight of the LAPD. “This equipment is for the protection of the public and of the officers. To have people who don’t like the rules to take it upon themselves to do something like this is very troubling.”
Police Chief Charlie Beck told the Times his department had not intentionally withheld information about the tampering from the police commission. The LAPD is only a year removed from an ongoing arrangement with the U.S. Department of Justice in which a Federal court had authorized the DOJ to monitor the department’s practices.
“The [Federal] judge agreed to lift the oversight, in part, after city and police leaders made assurances that the LAPD had adequate safeguards, such as the cameras, in place to monitor itself,” reported the Times.