As part of efforts to fight corruption, Los Angeles police officers who work in gang and narcotics units will soon be required to disclose private details of their personal finances. The move has infuriated hundreds of officers, who are threatening to leave if the policy does not.
A federal judge handed down the financial disclosure requirement in response to the Los Angeles Police Department's infamous "Rampart " scandal from the late 1990s, in which anti-gang unit officers in the city's Rampart division were found to have been planting evidence, framing and even shooting alleged gang members.
"These are officers who handle cash money, have contact with drug dealers, operators — and a lot of cash gets exchanged," says police commissioner John Mack, who chairs the civilian oversight committee that monitors the LAPD. "The thinking of the court was that it's important to determine if some officers may have some unexplained wealth."
Officers with salaries of $50,000 to $75,000 a year, who appeared to be living beyond their means, would be asked to reveal details about their bank accounts, mortgages and credit cards under the new plan.
The police union has filed a lawsuit against the department to stop the requirements. Members charge that the plan is intrusive and ill-conceived.
"It will not prevent corruption," says Tim Sands, who heads the L.A. Police Protective League. "If I'm a dirty cop, I'm not putting that money in my checking account."
In an effort to draw support for their lawsuit, the L.A. Police Protective League is running a series of dramatic radio ads, posing the following scenario:
"Imagine if your boss demanded that you give him all of your personal financial information, even when you had done nothing wrong, including all your bank account numbers and those of your spouse, your children and your grandchildren. He then told you there would be no guarantee who the information would be seen by. Would you agree to work under these conditions?"
The LAPD already has polygraph exams, investigations, subpoenas and other tools, Sands says, so why the need for such an invasive move. And while the police commission promises to store the financial information in the police chief's office, Sands says that many are afraid their records could get into the wrong hands.
In the radio ads, the officers threaten to leave:
"More than 500 officers are willing to leave their units rather than take the financial risk of sharing their personal information."
Some officers also say they feel they could be vulnerable to the criminals they arrest, but Police Commissioner John Mack isn't convinced.
"That's a threat they've been throwing out there. I frankly think it's a scare tactic," he says, adding that the officers have nothing to fear.
"It is not the end of the world. Their lives are not going to be turned upside down," Mack says. "And assuming they're honest, they have nothing to hide."