This is an article written by John E. Smith a 17-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department. He is currently a patrol officer on the over-night shift at the North Hollywood Division of LAPD. This is a condensed version of his article for the Daily News’ Local View Section.
Officer Smith told me it was time for officers on the front lines to express what was really going on at LAPD. He said I have three years until my retirement and I do not fear that I will lose my job. Here is his article:
I understand why many officers are reluctant to speak openly and criticize the LAPD about the lack of basic items needed to protect and service the people of Los Angeles.
The LAPD has become well known for sparing no expense when it comes to investigating a frivolous complaints made by a street thug or silencing a vocal officer who is critical of the LAPD or city leadership.
However, it is an entirely different matter when it comes to officers trying to find pens or pencils to talk a citizen’s crime report. The LAPD seems to have its own twisted sense of backward priorities these days.
As a police officer, I see how devastating the simplest of things can be to an officer’s mental well-being. I see daily how demoralized street officers affect public safety and the safety of my community where I live.
Yet, Many of them press on every day doing the best job possible while getting little more than lip service from city leadership. I have become so frustrated with the lack of basic items it has caused me to start exploring job opportunities outside the LAPD.
You see I can retire with 20 years of service in about three years. The chief is correct that “morale is a personal issue.” So, I have found a rather simple way to keep my spirits up until I retire.
I like so many other officers, am now funding my own war on crime. Make no mistake, I am not a martyr. However, having basic tools to do my job and help people just makes me feel good, and I kind of like that feeling.
It also makes sense to me. I am just one officer, but many officers are now quietly spending their own money. I ‘m so tired of seeing frustrated officers and citizens. So I have decided to be a bit of a maverick.
To start with, I protect myself from frivolous complaints from street thugs and a draconian LAPD disciplinary system. I now have a personal insurance policy. I pay $475 each year to an insurance company that provides me a lawyer and compensation if I’m ever a casualty of LAPD discipline system. This policy is above and beyond my union dues to the Los Angeles Protective League, which I am currently ending my membership.
I have a simple rule when it comes to equipment and supplies provided by the city of Los Angeles: My equipment is made by the lowest possible bidder.
As consumers, we all know you typically get what you pay for. Let’s start with the computers provided to the rank and files. Most are all desktop models and still using the 1995 edition of Windows. They freeze up, and shut down without warning, and have a nasty habit of “eating” you reports. There are too few computers, and they’re poorly maintained.
To get around this problem I purchased my own laptop computer.
When the city was forced to settle the FSLA lawsuit two years ago, I took my money and I bought this computer.
No more waiting for a free computer. No more aggravation of having my reports vanish into cyberspace without warning. No more endless waiting to see if the city computer will even allow me to log on. I can write the narratives to my reports any time any place.
Several months ago, I became frustrated that we have no film for the antiquated Polaroid cameras provided by the LAPD, I could not take photos of juries to victims. Officer Smith goes on to say how he used his overtime money from the LA riots to buy his own digital camera and now can put the pictures right into his computer to be printed with the reports. Judges now can see for themselves what the scene was like. Smith says it is a major help in domestic disputes.
Many officers have told me that they too have had to buy their own laptop computers and other supplies so they can compete with the criminals. One 25 year veteran and decorated LAPD detective who bought his own laptop said his superiors criticized him for doing so. The detective said the Chief and his people wanted detectives to be paper pushers in the office and not proactive fighting crime. He says he was told by a superior that “we are going to wait until the crime happens and then fill out the paper work, we are not hitting the streets to stop the crimes.” The detective explained that if you prevent crimes from happening, then the crime stats go down and the Chief cannot justify more funds.
This experienced detective has now joined the flood of veteran officers who have retired or left the LAPD for another police department. Officer Smith pointed out that at the rate the officers are leaving the department it may soon be a 5,000 person force. Our last mayor promised a 10,000 officer force.
I talked with a group of LAPD officers one day just after role call and too many said that they would hit the streets and do a little as they can, so they will not get complaints. One officer showed me a book and said this is what I am going to be doing on this shift, reading and staying out of the public’s eye. All the officers say that any thug or angry drunk citizen can file a frivolous complaint and there will be a major investigation and it goes into their permanent file.
A patrol officer in the Valley gave me an example of a complaint that was filed on him. He said he was sent to a domestic dispute. His Sgt. said the husband had to be transported to the station for questioning. The husband, a respected businessman did not think he should be handcuffed for the ride to the West Valley station. The officer explained that it was LAPD policy that all persons transported in a police car had to be handcuff.
He said he asked his Sgt. if it was necessary to handcuff this man. The Sgt. said you know what the policy is, do it. So the patrol officer handcuffed the protesting businessman and took him to the station where he was released in about an hour without charges. The next day the businessman files an official complaint on the officer. It goes into his file as a citizen’s complaint of excessive force. His Sgt. who told him to do it, now opens an investigation into what he did to follow LAPD policy. The officer told me that before this Chief a complaint like this would have been dismissed because the officer was following the department’s policy.
But now he has a citizen’s complaint of excessive force in his file. Even if it is dismissed later it will still show in his file. The officer says all the thugs and crooks know that they can cause us major problems if they file a citizens complaint on us. We want to department to be reasonable and not make every complaint from a gang member or crook a major investigation that ends up in our file.
The LAPD is so short of officers now that they have had to shut down major detective units, like car theft in the Valley. Officers who would normally do detective or undercover work are now forced into patrol just to cover the city’s needs for uniformed officers.
The LAPD is losing officers at a fast rate and cannot seem to find very many people who want to join a department with so many problems.
The current joke at LAPD Parker Center (Police Headquarters) is that the Chief will finally understand the shortage of officers when one morning he calls for his police officer driver and the dispatcher says, “Sorry Chief, we are out of officers. You are going to have to drive your own car today, unless you want to ride with Animal Control.
I salute the professional LAPD Officers who go to work every day and do a first-class job with all the problems that they have to work through in the LAPD. The “Thin Blue Line” at LAPD is now a “Dotted Blue Line.”