The LAPD's investigation into a group of officers suspected of falsifying information that led to innocent citizens being labeled as gang members — became public just as California's Department of Justice considered new restrictions on when police can add a person's profile to a statewide gang system.
The DOJ is accepting public comment for the next two weeks on new criteria for the use of Cal-Gangs, the database of gang information compiled from police agencies around the state. A 2015 audit found the database contained a significant amount of incorrect information and some of the contributing agencies, including the LAPD, didn't always follow the rules that governed when a person's profile could be added.
"DOJ has spent the last year setting up new policies that were supposed to go into effect on January 1  but it's not finished," said Sean Garcia-Leys, a senior staff attorney with the Urban Peace Institute, a nonprofit that works on gang intervention and justice reform efforts.
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"The draft regulations don't have nearly enough oversight or accountability to insure that things like this don't happen again, or happen in other departments," Garcia-Leys said.
NBC4's I-Team reported Monday that more than a dozen LAPD officers were the subjects of an internal affairs investigation for allegedly filing field interview reports after car and pedestrian stops in South LA that claimed some citizens were gang members, when, in fact, they were not.
"There is no place in the Department for any individual who would purposely falsify information on a Department report," Chief Michel Moore said in a prepared statement.
The ACLU and other community groups complained to the Moore and Mayor Eric Garcetti in early 2019 after other data collected during those same South LA stops — showed LAPD officers had stopped African American drivers at a higher rate than others. The groups demanded that Metropolitan Division officers be removed from crime suppression assignments.
"We were concerned about the disproportionate policing that South LA residents were receiving," said ACLU attorney Melanie Ochoa, who specializes in police issues.
In response the Mayor asked Moore to redirect Metro officers' efforts, though the officers were not kept out of those neighborhoods where violent crime had spiked several years ago.
Ochoa said Metro officers had also been incentivized to find more gang members, as it was one of the statistics used by the LAPD to gauge the group's effectiveness.
"It's not accolade worthy for officers to stop a pedestrian who's doing nothing, but it is accolade worthy, in the context of the department and Cal-Gangs, to stop a gang member," she said.
So far a criminal case against one of the Metro Division officers under investigation has been presented to prosecutors. No decision has been made on whether or not to file criminal charges, according to the LA County District Attorney's Office.
Multiple law enforcement sources said at least 10 Metro officers have been removed from duty and assigned to home until the investigation is resolved. The inquiry began last year and continues to expand as more body-worn-video recorded by the officers is reviewed, the sources said.