August 2012 Warning Bells article

Driving and shooting are going to have a lot in common

Although when you shoot you are trying to hit something and when you drive you are trying not to hit something, there are going to be similarities between the two by the time you read this. That similarity will be the thoroughness of the Department’s investigation when someone is hurt. Traffic collisions involving police vehicles that result in “K” (death) or “A” (major injury) injuries have, for all practical purposes, been elevated to the status of categorical uses of force. And you know what that means: overtime, whether you want it or not.

In my youth it was common for mothers to lecture their children on always having on clean underwear “because you never know when you’re going to get in an accident.” That advice should now be repeated to all Los Angeles police officers. If you get in an accident, your underwear better be clean, figuratively speaking. You can be sure that it is going to be inspected. The old style of only filling out a CHP Form 556 about the accident is over.

There will now be an expanded investigation including tape-recorded interviews with the same scope and detail as a categorical use of force FID investigation. Also expect a black box in all modern vehicles that records speed, seatbelt information, force of impact and who knows what else — all of which are going to be carefully analyzed and eventually compared against your taped statement.

As always, accuracy is of paramount importance. Conflicts can and will be used against you. If not used by the Department, they will at least be used by the plaintiff’s attorneys, who will be suing you and the City. And then there is always the possibility of a criminal filing against you if the district attorney thinks there has been criminal negligence.

For that reason, the League has expanded its roll out program to include responding to any League member’s involvement in a TC that is being investigated under the new roll out system. If you are involved as either the driver or a witness, after stabilizing the situation and getting care to those who are injured, do not discuss the details of the accident with anyone until League counsel arrives. The career you save may be your own.

Why the change? Well, if you have been reading the newspapers lately, you will see that there has been considerable coverage of the payouts in traffic accident cases, including a $6.6 million settlement recently and a $5 million settlement last year. In fact, the Los Angeles Times was kind enough to research all the settlements and judgments against the LAPD from the beginning of 2002 through Oct. 5, 2011, and list them at http://spreadsheets.latimes.com/lapd-settlements/.

They came up with about 400 traffic accidents involving LAPD officers costing the City about $24 million according to the January 2012 Times article (this figure does not include the latest $6.6 million settlement). Thus, said the Department — obviously pressured by the Police Commission — the investigations of traffic accidents need to be taken more seriously. More like, say, a categorical use of force.

And so the Specialized Collision Investigation Detail (SCID) will be replaced by the newly formed Multi-Disciplinary Collision Investigation Team (MCIT). Anyone can see that the moniker of SCID for a traffic investigation team is far cooler than MCIT, but this is a sea change in operations that apparently requires a different name. The team will consist of a risk management person, a lieutenant II, a sergeant II, a detective III, two detective IIs, two P3s, a motor transport person and a traffic engineer. I am told some spots are still open if you are interested.

Expect that traffic accidents will be given more scrutiny than you have ever seen before. There will be walkthroughs, photographs, scene diagrams, equipment inspections, black box analyses and the same kind of detailed interrogation that you are subjected to when you fire your weapon. Also expect that the investigation will be subjected to multiple layers of oversight. Surviving the collision may be easier than surviving the investigation.

Director Mark Cronin ably gets into the details of the new system in his article on page 6 of this Thin Blue Line issue. His advice on avoiding a meeting with MCIT is golden — slow down and wear your seatbelts. If the meeting turns out to be unavoidable, call the League.

What???

As I reviewed the Times spreadsheet on lawsuits against the Department, I noticed that there was a different kind of crash spread throughout the document that seemed to escape the Times’ scrutiny. I recognized the names of some officers who I knew had been in a different type of collision. They had collided with LAPD management over their rights, ranging from retaliation to discrimination.

Using the Times data, I totaled up the number of officers who had sued the Department and the resulting total paid out by the City in settlements and jury verdicts. It was astounding: 71 officers, during the same time period, had sued the Department and the payout was $31,698,487! This is almost $7 million more than the amount that the City had to pay out because of LAPD officers’ involvement in traffic accidents in that same period.

At least the officers were involved in accidents. Juries found repeatedly that LAPD management deliberately abused officers’ rights. Why hasn’t the Police Commission created a special unit assigned to prevent this hemorrhage of tax dollars? Talk about the need for more thorough investigations! Based on the Times data, a roll out team to investigate and prevent management abuse of employees would seem to be a wiser investment of time and money.

But for now, the microscope is on you. Hear warning bells. Drive safe and…..

Be legally careful out there.

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