The Los Angeles Police Department once again finds itself embroiled in controversy. But unlike controversies of the past that have vexed my former employer, this one does not involve someone being shot, beaten, or otherwise mistreated by police officers. The present strife instead concerns the more mundane matter of keeping the books. Or, if the allegations of one senior officer are to be believed, cooking them.
This month, the Los Angeles Times reported on some remarkable claims made by Captain Lillian Carranza, to wit, that the department was being less than truthful in reporting its crime numbers so as to make the city seem safer than it in fact is. Captain Carranza, the commanding officer of Van Nuys Division, in the San Fernando Valley, made her accusations in a claim for damages against the city. Such claims are most often precursors to a lawsuit, and Carranza alleges she was denied a promotion to the rank of commander for having raised these issues within the department.
“They are not only lies, but they are damn lies,” said LAPD Chief Charlie Beck of Captain Carranza’s allegations. “If I’m cooking the books, I’m not doing a good job,” he said, noting that reported violent crime in the city was up 4 percent this year.
The LAPD, says Carranza in her complaint, “engaged in a highly complex and elaborate coverup in an attempt to hide the fact that command officers had been providing false crime figures to the public attempting to convince the public that crime was not significantly increasing.” She specifically cites two of the LAPD’s 21 patrol divisions, Central and Pacific, as having reported inaccurate crime stats. (Central Division covers downtown L.A.; Pacific covers the city’s west side, south of the Santa Monica Freeway.) Both these areas, says Carranza, underreported aggravated assaults by 10 percent. The commanding officers of both divisions, Carranza says in her complaint, were later promoted to commander.
In the case of Central Division, the most recent crime numbers, even if accurate, are concerning enough. Homicides are up 70 percent over last year, robberies are up 11 percent, and aggravated assaults are up 31 percent. The latest numbers from Pacific Division are less troubling, but they raise questions about their accuracy. While the city as a whole has seen increases in both violent and property crimes, Pacific reports declines in both categories.
We may presume Captain Carranza has at least some factual basis for her claims, for in taking the action she has she has doomed whatever future she might have had with the LAPD. She has not only called into question Chief Beck’s integrity, but also that of a number of her colleagues in the command staff. To base such action on mere speculation would be beyond foolhardy. And while I have no information on the specifics of Captain Carranza’s allegations, I can say from personal experience that some of the people she names are not known in the department to be shining examples of integrity.
And so we may ask, what would motivate people in the LAPD to manipulate crime statistics? Who stands to benefit from such subterfuge? It’s important to remember that the LAPD, like most police departments in the country, especially those in large cities, is a political entity, consuming the largest share of the city’s budget. And as a political entity, the LAPD’s managers are keenly attuned to the political interests of the city’s elected leaders. Mayor Eric Garcetti, like most any politician you could name, is a man of high ambition. Despite being so graceless as to have once employed the F-word while addressing a crowd containing many children, when Garcetti looks in the mirror he sees a future president. As unlikely as it may be for anyone to jump from City Hall to the White House, it would be far less likely for Garcetti if he were to be known as the man who oversaw Los Angeles’s decline into the cesspool of crime it was in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. And Garcetti, like nearly every big-city mayor, is a liberal Democrat, and as such he is invested in the recent criminal justice reforms enacted in California, reforms that have had the effects of changing many felony crimes into misdemeanors and of releasing thousands of inmates from the state’s prisons.
Chief Beck is well known for doing Garcetti’s bidding, and it is not at all farfetched to believe he would exert pressure, even if only tacit pressure, down the chain of command to make the city’s crime picture appear rosier than it is. And when we examine the upper levels of that chain of command, we find men and women who, whatever their rank, aspire to the next one. And how does one reach that next rank? By doing what pleases the chief, of course. So if a few robberies can be turned into thefts, if a few aggravated assaults can be turned into simple batteries, isn’t that a small price to pay for keeping the chief happy and gaining that next bar or star on your collar?
Captain Carranza’s allegations will either be proved or disproved in the course of a long legal process, one that will include sworn depositions from many in the command staff. If she truly has the facts on her side, who among her colleagues will be willing to stand with her? It will be a fascinating show to watch.