[Guest post by Jack Dunphy]
In Wednesday’s Los Angeles Times, writer Richard Winton wrote a laudatory and laughably credulous article on the work of every liberal’s favorite police “expert,” Merrick Bobb. I place quotation marks around the word because Mr. Bobb, a politically connected lawyer, hasn’t the least bit of practical experience in matters on which he renders opinions. He has, rather, parlayed his political connections in such a way as to have himself appointed to various citizens’ commissions charged with implementing police reform in Los Angeles. His expertise, therefore, is limited to whatever knowledge he has been able to glean from reading reports prepared for him by others, many of whom have no greater knowledge of police work than he does. (Our host has posted previously on Mr. Bobb’s apparent conflict of interest in writing an opinion piece for the L.A. Times.)
Wednesday’s article focused on the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Personal Performance Index, which was described as an “early-warning system” used to identify deputies displaying patterns of behavior indicative of potential liability for the county. A study released by the Sheriff’s Department on Tuesday concluded, according to the Times, that “there is a strong link between the number of complaints filed against a deputy – proven or not – and the possibility that the deputy will eventually get into serious trouble and become a liability for the department.”
It’s all well and good for the Sheriff’s Department, as does the Los Angeles Police Department, to attempt to identify officers whose behavior may indicate looming problems. What I object to is the over-reliance on computer databases to make judgments about past behavior and predictions of future behavior.
The LAPD has for several years used a similar officer-tracking system, the current version of which is known as TEAMS II. (The LAPD is crazy for acronyms; the meaning of this one currently escapes me, if indeed I ever knew it.) There are commanding officers within the LAPD, as I assume to be the case in the Sheriff’s Department, who believe they can render an accurate judgment of an officer’s worth merely by looking at a printout of the information contained within the various databases. Though in some cases one may be able to form the outlines of an opinion based on this information, to rely on it exclusively, and to accord weight to unproven and even unfounded allegations, is to do a disservice to those officers who voluntarily expose themselves to the hazards attendant to working high-crime areas.
What Mr. Bobb would realize, if he were indeed the expert he purports to be, is that making groundless complaints against police officers is a tactic long employed by criminals in Los Angeles, most especially by gang members whose activities are best curtailed by proactive policing. In the LAPD, this tactic has been known to be effective in some cases, with officers either being reassigned by cowardly managers or deciding on their own to avoid those neighborhoods where they can scarcely drive down the street without having a complaint made against them.
A colleague of mine was once denied a transfer because a captain (who has since been promoted to commander) formed an opinion of him based on a series of unproven allegations, nearly all of which were made by gang members he had arrested. The officer had an exemplary record and not a single sustained allegation against him of any type, yet he was nonetheless denied the position he sought. The job instead went to an officer who had conducted himself more cautiously – and less effectively – as he went through his career.
I once had a partner who objected as I was driving our black-and-white into a housing project in South Central L.A., one known then as now for its violent crime. “I don’t think we should be here,” he said. “It’s dangerous.”
I’m sure that officer has racked up a personnel record Mr. Bobb would hold as exemplary, but the city isn’t the least bit safer for his efforts.