The Los Angeles Police Department, criticized in high-profile abuse cases, is dramatically changing its disciplinary system and doing away with automatic punishment for officers who break the rules, reports the Los Angeles Daily News. In a series of changes this year, direct supervisors are being encouraged to forgo suspensions of officers who they believe will change their behavior – or just made a one-time mistake – and instead opt for written warnings. Issuing personnel complaints – which prompt detailed investigations and are considered formal findings of misconduct – is no longer the standard procedure.
The new process applies across the board – from officers who accidently wreck their squad cars to those who beat or shoot people. Police officials believe the shift could turn around a department with a reputation for brutality, forcing officers to think about their actions instead of automatically being suspended and often getting paid for those days by a union insurance policy. The police union warns that the new policy may open the door to favoritism. Critics say it could ease discipline, further curb access to disciplinary records already heavily shielded from public scrutiny and further undermine the community’s shaky confidence in the department. By reducing the need for overtime from other officers, the revamped discipline system could save the city millions of dollars. Still, some say it also could prevent public view of personnel complaints that would otherwise be scrutinized. “Whether it works or not is all in the execution,” said Peter Bibring of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.