Saturday, April 7, 2007

Anti-terrorism audit of LAPD reveals lapses

By Beth Barrett

The first audit of the Los Angeles Police Department's anti-terrorism activities in a decade has found officers were allowed into the highly sensitive unit without polygraphs, confidential information was handled sloppily and the police commission didn't get required updates.
The audit was released a year and a half after the Los Angeles Daily News disclosed the mandatory annual police commission audits of the LAPD's Anti-Terrorist Intelligence Section hadn't been done since 1997 -- a failing that raised concerns about the potential for abuse and lack of public transparency.

Ramona Ripston, executive director of the ACLU of Southern California, said the audit -- a requirement following a court settlement intended to end police abuses of keeping secret dossiers on prominent individuals -- was long overdue.
She noted a finding in which two investigations were opened on grounds of reasonable suspicion that "appeared questionable." And she questioned why the audit didn't include the number of terrorist investigations, as the 1997 audit did.
"On balance, it's a pretty good report, but it shows the importance of why these reports should be issued," Ripston said. "We were dismayed to find out they weren't keeping track of the agreement in the settlement they made."
Monday's release of the audit's first phase, overseen by Commissioner Alan J. Skobin and Inspector General Andre Birotte, found a series of problems that went undetected or unreported to the public during the years the audits were neglected. But it didn't identify any improper police tracking of individuals involved in political dissent, or other constitutionally protected activity.
"We were very thorough. This is a very important area: people's constitutional rights, their liberties. We were painstakingly careful in reviewing this and found (no violations) whatsoever. ... The type of abuses that were the target of the audit were not happening in LAPD, not in the areas that violate peoples' rights."
Skobin said that while there was no evidence of "wrongdoing," auditors found "room for improvement." The audit did find lapses, including the discontinuation of giving new investigators a lie-detector test.
"In the past (anti-terrorism) personnel submitted to a lie-detector examination prior to being placed in the section," the audit said. "Due to limited resources within the department and a need to transfer personnel into the section in a relatively short time frame, this process was eliminated from the selection process."
Major Crimes Division Commanding Officer Capt. Gary S. Williams, who is retiring this month, told auditors he was delayed in re-implementing the lie-detector test due to "employment and legal considerations." Still, the test has been reinstituted for new transfers. Williams could not be reached for comment Monday.
The audit said Williams failed to provide the commission with "written certification" each year that all intelligence investigations had been internally reviewed, and that those no longer considered viable had been closed, as regulations required.
The audits of the Major Crimes Division, which includes the antiterrorism section, were a key condition of a $1.8 million settlement with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California in 1984 after a high-profile department scandal.
The ACLU settlement came over the activities of the LAPD's Public Disorder Intelligence Division, which kept extensive secret files on public officials and prominent civilians.
The department was accused of abuses in how those files were used after a detective was found to have more than 100 boxes of dossiers in his home and garage, and to have shared some of the material with right-wing groups and individuals.
Birotte said he was troubled, in particular, by instances where the documentation in the anti-terrorism files didn't back up the actions taken by investigators.
Williams, he said, blamed investigators' lack of experience. The audit said protocols intended to keep track of sensitive materials, including time stamps and other tracking devices, had been largely abandoned, the audit found. Williams reinstated the documentation requirement last April.

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