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Attorney general to audit LAPD traffic stop reports

LOS ANGELES — Following allegations that some Los Angeles police officers falsified data collected during traffic stops and wrongly labeled some motorists as gang members, state Attorney General Xavier Becerra said Feb. 10 his office will audit the department’s records and policies on the use of the state’s gang database.

“Right now, LAPD’s [CalGang] inputs are under the microscope, and we all have a stake in making sure that we all get this right,” Becerra said. “We do not yet have a clear or full picture of what occurred, but we know enough to know that we must act. Any falsification of police records and abuse of the CalGang database is unacceptable. If Californians are falsely included in the database, that could potentially subject them to unwarranted scrutiny.”

Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore told the city’s Police Commission last month that 20 officers have been reassigned during an internal investigation into alleged data tampering, with 10 assigned to home duty and 10 others taken off patrol duties.

The probe focuses on allegations that officers falsified field interview cards during traffic stops, possibly in response to pressure from supervisors to focus on stopping gang members. The falsification of data could lead to people being improperly listed in CalGang, a statewide system used by law enforcement for sharing intelligence regarding potential gang members and to investigate crimes.

Becerra said that at a minimum, the state Department of Justice will observe LAPD re-training sessions, conduct an independent audit of its CalGang entries, including a review of body-worn camera footage taken during traffic stops, and review of LAPD internal control and policies.

“As we learn more, we may need to do more,” Becerra said. “If more information becomes available, we can and will take further steps including suspending or revoking LAPD access to the CalGang database or issue a letter of censure.”

LAPD will be required to conduct its own detailed inspections of its CalGang record, develop new oversight for entries and require additional levels of review, Becerra said.

The LAPD issued a statement saying the agency has been working closely with the Attorney General’s Office, and has already initiated “a series of steps to ensure the integrity of the information entered into the gang database.”

“The California Gang Database is a critical tool for law enforcement in its efforts to solve violent crime and any information entered must be accurate,” Moore said. “We are committed to holding anyone who falsified information accountable and will also fully cooperate with the state Attorney General’s Office.”

The CalGang system was overseen by individual police departments until the state Legislature passed a bill that gave the attorney general authority over it in 2017.

Becerra said the state Department of Justice issued proposed regulations in December to require officers to document their reasoning for entering someone into the CalGang database to ensure reasonable suspicion exists that someone may be affiliated with a gang. The regulations also require departments to report any misuse of CalGang within five days.

Becerra said it is unknown how many people have been entered into CalGang by LAPD, but he said the department is the largest contributor to the database. Statewide, there are about 80,000 people entered.

Various media reports in January indicated the District Attorney’s Office is already considering filing criminal charges against one officer, Braxton Shaw, who has been placed on administrative leave.

Moore said the allegations were traced back to early 2019, when the mother of a young San Fernando Valley man was notified that the LAPD believed her son was part of a gang. But she insisted her son was mistakenly identified.

Moore said the mother met with a division supervisor to challenge the gang status, and she was told that the son would be removed from the system.

The police chief said he has moved to fire an officer who allegedly falsified information collected during traffic stops, and the department is referring the case to prosecutors to consider possible criminal charges.

The officer in question was not identified, but Moore said in a statement that it was “concluded that the actions of one officer was a serious violation of department policy.”

The LAPD insisted in a department statement that changes are already being made to its procedures to ensure the accuracy of officers’ reports.

The department has ordered retraining for all Metropolitan Division and gang-enforcement personnel regarding the more stringent reviews of information leading to people’s names being added to the gang database. 

News of the field identification probe came a year after an investigation by the Los Angeles Times found that LAPD Metropolitan Division officers stopped black drivers at a rate more than five times their share of the city’s population. In response, the department announced last fall it would drastically cut back on pulling over random vehicles.

“Any falsification of police records and abuse of the CalGang database is unacceptable.”

— California Attorney General Xavier Becerra

By ERIC HEINZ

City News Service