July 2010 Blue Line Article by Hank Hernandez

Financial Disclosures: An Ineffective, Counterproductive Policy

During our legal battle in federal court against the financial disclosure policy, implemented by the LAPD through Special Order No. 20 (2009), the League produced the legal opinions of several reputable law enforcement experts. There was not one rebuttal of their sworn declarations.

Last month this article contained a summary of the expert opinion of a retired FBI supervising agent who specialized in investigating financial crimes. Below are excerpts from another one of our experts in law enforcement management principles:

• The most effective force in preventing police corruption is the value system developed within the rank-and-file culture of the police agency. The proposed financial disclosure policy is a reflection of outmoded, putative, hierarchal models of police leadership which have failed to deter or prevent corruption in the past. More recent progressive thinking in police leadership stresses establishing a professional, problem-solving, public-service-oriented, participatory management structure fitted to a newer generation of officers who will be more responsive to motivational leadership than historical leadership models relying on rigid, military-style or top-down mandatory orders. More effective police and leadership require clear, reasonable rules and procedures, training and management practices that create a climate in which a professional value culture is developed and nourished within the police agency. In short, the most effective prevention of corruption occurs when officers tempted to engage in corruption realize that their peers will not accept it and will report it.

• It is incumbent upon management to cultivate a climate that encourages pride and professionalism that nurtures the development of values among officers, creating zero tolerance for police criminal acts by all officers. The proposed financial disclosure requirements are the antithesis of the more modern approach to policing. Special Order No. 20 (March 29, 2009) is requisite of old management attitudes expressing unprompted suspicion and distrust of rank-and-file officers and their superiors.

• Americans live in a dynamic society characterized by frequent changes in residences, family status and financial worth. The recent extreme economic contractions alone resulted in dramatic, complicated changes in financial worth for many, if not the majority, of the population. These unusual changes would present most of us with the necessity for acquiring professional assistance to comply with the newly proposed financial disclosure policy. Even with such assistance, it is likely that any number of officers who previously were likely to be regarded as financially secure and not representing an inappropriate risk for special assignments might now be burdened with providing considerably greater explanations. The independent monitor’s so-called useful baseline for raising questions on an applicant’s suitability for certain assignments does not presently, if it ever did in the past, provide reliable data upon which management will base important decisions affecting an officer’s career. In addition, although Special Order No. 20 states that the Consent Decree Bureau will provide the employee with an opportunity to “respond in writing to any areas of concern,” the criteria for “concern” are broad and subjective, and the process, early on, shifts to the employees the burden of proving their innocence.

• The proposed financial disclosure requirement will not achieve its goals because, among other reasons, it is on its face impractical, unwieldy and deeply flawed as a management tool. In an effort to promise unachievable privacy for applicants, the disclosure policy proposes that the applicant fill out the forms; gather numerous supporting information and documents; and present the material during an interview within 10 calendar days of being selected for, and prior to assignment to, certain units. The officer is required to meet with a member of the Consent Division Bureau (the member is unspecified in the general order). The CDB (unspecified personnel) will review each disclosure report and all supporting documentation. Special Order No. 20 declares that the material will then be reviewed by a CSD employee (unspecified) who possesses the skills to audit financial records. The order makes no reference as to what these skills are or how many such employees will be hired to perform these tasks. The captain of the Civil Rights Integrity Division shall then review and approve the completed work. Special Order No. 20 also states that no copies of the documents will be made during the process, but that promise is contradicted by the statement that the material will be scanned and deposited upon a computer disc. Scanning is copying. The order specifies that the Consent Decree Bureau (a bureau report means a group, rather than individual effort) will report all findings to the chief of police, who will make a “final determination” to approve or deny the application. Completed forms will be locked in a secure safe in the police chief ’s office.

• The convoluted and confusing procedures will quickly mount into thousands of applications, and cause administrative chaos that is bureaucratically dysfunctional. It will, in the end, fail. The lack of success will leave the Department open to charges of noncompliance that will lead to lawsuits from within and outside the Department, and contentions of laxity on corruption control, producing a loss of public confidence that will adversely affect the effectiveness of the Los Angeles Police Department.

• Special Order No. 20 nowhere specifies the chronology or number of people who will handle the various forms, where and how they will be safeguarded as they travel from CDB interviewer to the “audit-skilled” CSD employee, to the captain of Civil Rights Integrity Division or to Office of the Chief of Police. Order No. 20 promises that no copies will be made of documents. Nonetheless, it is hard to imagine that the various individuals interviewing candidates and rendering opinions will not be required to take notes explaining and justifying their conclusions. Order No. 20 ignores this fact, and makes no mention of the storage and disposition of such notes.

The absence of attention to this issue raises questions about both the validity of privacy guarantees and the ignorance of administrative procedures on the part of the Independent Monitor. It is impossible to imagine that the volume of applicants and complexity of materials being reviewed will not involve delegation of tasks to clerical and various other personnel. It also is completely unrealistic that a police chief of even a moderately sized department, let alone one the size of the Los Angeles Police Department, would be able to review forms for his “final approval,” given his manifold duties.

In addition, it is naive to believe that there is absolute security in any location in a police department which operates on a 24-hour basis and employs a large number of personnel for administrative, maintenance, cleaning and other tasks that are often performed with minimal or no supervision, outside normal working hours. Clearly, the multitude of people with access to these confidential documents argues against guarantees of privacy.

Furthermore, it is worth recalling that the Rampart scandal revelations were triggered by an officer who managed to steal drugs from the police property facility, one of the most secure locations in any police agency. Indeed, the documents that I reviewed relating to this case indicate that there is no existing safe or other secure filing place in the chief ’s office.

Most important of all, corrupt Officer Rafael Perez would not have been uncovered under the requirements of Special Order No. 20. Perez was eventually convicted, however, through the use of conventional police investigative techniques, even though they were delayed and ineptly employed.

In summary, our expert supports our view that officers’ concerns over their own and their families’ privacy cannot be casually dismissed in a nation where leaks of even top-secret national materials, confidential court and police proceedings and other confidential government information appear in a constitutionally protected news media or anonymous blogs. These leaks are common, unavoidable and usually untraceable.

It is also true that police agencies throughout the country are warning of increases in identity thefts. Prevention efforts offered by law enforcement and other sources advise that there are many items of personnel information in addition to social security numbers that should be protected. Nor is it by any means paranoia for police officers to believe that they are an especially inviting target for certain groups of potential and actual lawbreakers.

Happy Fourth of July. Stay safe and stay in touch.

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