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LAPD officers broke police car antennas to thwart recordings

By Charlene Muhammad -National Correspondent- | Last updated: Apr 18, 2014 - 2:13:52 PM

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Los Angeles Police Sgt. Dan Gomez, a department expert on recording devices, shows a video display inside a patrol car with a camera pointed through the windshield at right, during a demonstration for media in Los Angeles, April 8. LAPD officers tampered with recording gear in dozens of patrol cars to avoid being monitored, and avoided discipline for the altered cars, The Los Angeles Times reported. One inspection by LAPD investigators found that about half of the estimated 80 cars in one South LA division were missing antennas. Photo: AP/Wide World photos
LOS ANGELES (FinalCall.com) - A coalition of activists, community and religious leaders is demanding that the Los Angeles Police Department investigate and discipline officers who broke antennas from police vehicles and interfered with audio recordings made while patrolling predominantly Black and Brown communities.

The affected neighborhoods include Watts, Jordan Downs and Nickerson Gardens.

The antennas resulted in poor quality audio recordings on in-car cameras, which are used to guard against racial profiling by officers, according to the Police Commission. The department learned about the problem last summer but did not report the illegal acts to the Police Commission, which is supposed to oversee the department until months later, according to media reports. No disciplinary actions was taken after LAPD discovered the problem.

The coalition was scheduled to present its concerns to the LAPD Police Commission in mid-April. The incidents and Chief Charlie Beck’s response or lack thereof are very troubling, they told The Final Call.

According to early April Los Angeles Times news reports, officers removed 72 of approximately 160 antennas from cars that patrolled South L.A. The reports further indicate officials didn’t investigate who broke the antennas, nor did department officials, but they did issue warnings and put an antenna tracking plan in place for each shift.

“There’s nothing new under the sun. Minister Farrakhan’s been talking about this stuff for a long time, and it’s no secret to members of the Nation of Islam, that there’s racism at (the) root of this culture here. It’s not just by White people but by Black and Latino officers who are brainwashed by this system,” stated  Alex Salazar, a former Los Angeles Police Department officer turned private investigator.

Mr. Salazar said he’s seen and heard a lot but nothing like this before.

“It doesn’t surprise me due to the culture. Law enforcement is being very resistant to a lot of this new technology that is coming out because a lot of these guys say, ‘Well, they’re tying our hands. We can’t do good old-fashioned police work,’ which in many cases what they’re doing is framing people, and doing things the old school way of how they used to do it,” Mr. Salazar stated.

Activists agree that good old police work referred to equal widespread use of excessive force and a lack of consequences for officers who are repeat offenders. This view was solidified by a review board set up after the televised 1991 Rodney King beating by LAPD officers.

The Independent Commission on the LAPD, commonly referred to as the Christopher Commission and named after chairman Warren Christopher, reviewed the conduct and operations of LAPD.

The LAPD never followed up on many of the Christopher Commission’s recommendations, and then the notorious 1990s “Rampart Scandal” broke. The scandal involved widespread corruption in the LAPD anti-gang unit called CRASH (Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums). Approximately 140 settlements in civil suits related to the scandal have cost the city over $125 million.

“They (LAPD) cannot be trusted as civil servants who’ve taken an oath to do the right thing, to be honest. That’s why technology has been revealing all these things that’s going on,” Mr. Salazar argued.

Activists say police know cameras prohibit them from beating people, which traditionally they’ve been able to get away with because of police culture and a blue code of silence. But that culture needs to change, and change won’t come through commissions and certainly not through technology alone, they argued.

“Police officers can’t see themselves as the ghetto gunfighters and the occupying force with the ‘us vs. them’ mentality. They have to take on a more, I would say, social services role because we’re dealing with a lot of people who are on drugs, who are mentally ill, a lot of poverty-stricken people,” Mr. Salazar argued.

While he prays the mindset will change, others noted the LAPD’s historic lack of discipline and accountability gives officers no reason to reverse their tactics.

“That is ‘good old police work.’ You’re keeping me (officers) from being able to curse people out. You’re keeping me from being able to lie and coerce. You’re keeping me from being able to injure people, torture people, and get away with doing that. How am I supposed to function?” asked human rights Attorney Nana Gyamfi, referring to the LAPD’s mindset revealed on recordings.

She wasn’t surprised at all by the news. Whenever it comes to recording officers police unions fight against it tooth and nail, the attorney said.

“Somehow they want us to believe that it’s going to hurt their ability to legally and properly fight crime if they have to be recorded, and just their arguments that they use to reject the capacity to record shows that they know they’re up to no good,” Atty. Gyamfi stated.

Police officers are trained informally and in some cases formally that breaking the law, violating people’s right is the way to do good police work and solve crime, she said. That training plays out in the media and on the streets and society by and large accepts it, she continued.

That officers felt so bold as to disable antennas speaks not to just their understanding that no one would be held responsible but also says there’s such a disdainful culture towards accountability that they could get away with it, she expressed.

But it needs to be taken very seriously, Atty. Gyamfi and other activists insisted.

“As long as there are no repercussions that matter this type of behavior is going to continue. They already did not investigate. The individual officers are not going to have any repercussions for their unlawful, illegal activity. They have vandalized public property, which is beyond just not following their own rules and regulations. That is a crime. None of them are individually going to be in trouble for that crime,” Atty. Gyamfi said.

Without court oversight recently lifted, and too prematurely, she asked, what’s going to happen to the LAPD? “They’re going to get a stern talking to? They’re going to put them in the corner? They’re going to send them to their room without supper,” she asked rhetorically.

The officers’ actions were negligent, senseless, criminal, and cannot go unpunished, said Tony Muhammad, the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan’s Western Region representative. 

“To act like it’s not important and something you just sweep under the rug, are you kidding me?” the Nation of Islam student minister stated.

He agrees with community activists who argue the LAPD has an integrity problem. “Their officers can do what the hell they want. ... It just shows us that you can never let your guard down because you never know what’s in the heart or mind of any officer or those given such authority,” Minister Muhammad continued.

He feels there must be independent civilian oversight of the LAPD because the department is not relentless in correcting its own. The Police Commission should have been informed and Chief Beck’s response should have been one of outrage, but again it shows a lack of accountability, he argued.

“But they (LAPD) will correct us,” Mr. Muhammad continued. “Let someone from the community have damaged one of those automobiles, they would tear up the Black community.”

Andrea Prichett of Berkeley CopWatch agreed that independent oversight is needed, suggesting specifically that electronic monitoring systems of police must be accountable to third parties.

Civilians should have control over the videos, whether they’re in prisons, on i.d. badges or in cars, she said. The police can’t be trusted to maintain or monitor those systems, said Ms. Prichett.

“At the end of the day, the more militarized police become, the more difficult it will become to control them, because they will feel empowered unto themselves,” Ms. Prichett warned.

The ugly truth is people are up against rogue armies controlled by politics and the chiefs within their institutions and communities must confront that, she argued. Ms. Prichett recommends community-based strategies for isolating police, disempowering them, and community problem solving.

“We’re encouraging peoples’ investigations because we don’t have to let that part delay us as they so often do. They (police) stall their investigations, delay their results, don’t disclose them when they have them, and we don’t want to empower them even to that degree,” said Ms. Prichett.

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