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How the LAPD responded to Christopher Dorner’s allegations of bias

Christopher Dorner‘s rampage across Southern California 10 years ago, was fueled by rage and a belief he had been unfairly treated by the Los Angeles Police Department.

“This is a necessary evil that I do not enjoy but must partake and complete for substantial change to occur within the LAPD and reclaim my name,” Dorner, a former LAPD officer, wrote in an 11,000-word manifesto he posted to Facebook before he died in February 2013 following a shootout in the San Bernardino Mountains.

After his death, the department found many in the LAPD believed the disciplinary system biased. The LAPD sought to improve things. And six years later, there was a dramatic overhaul of the system. But critics say there is still bias in the department today.

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Dorner sought revenge over ‘unfair’ firing

San Bernardino Sheriff's Deputy Jeremiah MacKay, left, and Riverside Police Department Officer Michael Crain, right, were killed by former Los Angeles Police Department officer Christopher Dorner. (Courtesy of San Bernadino Sheriff's Department, Riverside Police Department)
San Bernardino Sheriff’s Deputy Jeremiah MacKay, left, and Riverside Police Department Officer Michael Crain, right, were killed by former Los Angeles Police Department officer Christopher Dorner. (Courtesy of San Bernadino Sheriff’s Department, Riverside Police Department)

On Feb. 12, 2013, Dorner killed himself in a Big Bear area cabin after a 10-day shooting rampage across San Diego, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties. By then, four other people were dead and six more wounded. Among the dead were Monica Quan, the daughter of a retired LAPD captain; Quan’s fiancé, Keith Lawrence; Riverside police Officer Michael Crain and San Bernardino County sheriff’s Deputy Jeremiah MacKay.

In his manifesto, Dorner threatened to unleash “unconventional and asymmetric warfare” against officers and their families after his 2008 firing. He had never risen higher than a probationary officer. According to the department, Dorner made false statements in a report when he alleged his training officer kicked a suspect.

Dorner wrote the department “has not changed since the Rampart and Rodney King days,” citing infamous cases of LAPD violence against Black and other minority Los Angeles residents.

“Terminating officers because they expose a culture of lying, racism (from the academy), and the excessive use of force will immediately change,” he wrote. “I am here to correct and calibrate you morale (sic) compasses to true north.”

Four months later, the LAPD reviewed Dorner’s firing, releasing a 29-page report. It upheld the firing.

“Dorner’s propensity to fabricate allegations against his coworkers and his willingness to say that abuses occurred that clearly did not, all point to the very reason he could not be a part of this Department,” the report concludes.

Was LAPD discipline biased?

In 2014, the department released a 51-page report looking at perceived bias in its disciplinary process.

“Although Dorner’s termination from the LAPD was justified and without bias, it is important to recognize that part of the Department’s past includes an era of discrimination that may still resonate with some today,” the 2014 report reads in part. “Despite the significant process, the Department must always remain cognizant of its past and continue to look for opportunities to eliminate any actual or perceived bias that may still exist.”

More than 500 LAPD employees of all ranks and divisions took part in focus groups on the issue.

Dorner wasn’t alone in believing there was bias in the disciplinary system.

“Participants expressed concern that (Board of Rights) hearings and termination decisions were biased based on gender, ethnicity, and rank,” the 2014 report reads. “In particular, some participants believed that Black and Hispanic sworn employees were punished disproportionate to the ethnic makeup of the Department.”

Investigators found, between 2009 and 2013, the ethnic makeup of who was sent to disciplinary hearings almost matched the makeup of the department as a whole:

  • Hispanic officers made up 43% of the department at the time and made up 42% of those sent to hearings.
  • White officers made up 36% of the department and were the subject of 35% of the hearings.
  • Despite making up 12% of the department, Black officers were the subject of 14% of the hearings.
  • Filipino officers were the subject of 3% of the hearings, despite making up only 2% of the department.

On average, 85% of the 282 officers sent to disciplinary hearings were found guilty:

  • Black officers were found guilty 88% of the time.
  • Hispanic officers were found guilty 88% of the time.
  • White officers were found guilty 82% of the time.

Of the 282 officers sent to hearings, 62% of them were fired:

  • Filipino officers were fired 80% of the time.
  • Asian officers were fired 67% of the time.
  • Black officers were fired 64% of the time
  • Hispanic officers were fired 64% of the time.
  • White officers were fired 55% of the time.



LAPD promised change

The 2014 report ended with six recommendations:

  1. The department needed to update the guides management used to conduct investigations and discipline; complete unfinished guidelines for issuing reprimands; and train managers in all these areas.
  2. The department needed a uniform “penalty guide” to make punishments consistent.
  3. Those involved in the hearing process needed more training to make the process as fair and consistent as possible; including updated manuals, updating training; and clarifying expectations.
  4. The department should track disciplinary data for possible bias and create an anti-nepotism policy.
  5. Staff should be educated on the disciplinary process, including providing data on disciplinary actions and the department demographics.
  6. Prioritize disciplinary investigations and make sure complaints against staff were handled appropriately.

All of the recommendations have been adopted, according to LAPD spokesperson Rosario Cervantes, other than replacing reprimand guidelines with settlement guidelines.

‘Much more can be done’

Things changed even more after the 2019 adoption of civilian hearing panels for LAPD disciplinary matters. A November 2022 report by the LAPD suggested the panel may be more lenient than when it was staffed by law enforcement personnel.

Things are better under the new system, according to Tom Saggau, spokesman for the Los Angeles Police Protective League.

“A chief would tell the panel, ‘If I send someone to you to be terminated, by God, you’re going to terminate them,’ ” Saggau said.

Things have changed, he said. The panel is “not being told ‘You have to decide X,’ ” he added. “And that (did) happen; it’s well-documented.”

But Saggau would like to see more reforms. He wants accused officers to be able to present their side when the initial decision is made to send a case to a disciplinary hearing.

“There’s no opportunity for the officer to say ‘Whoa, wait a minute, you need to consider this and that and the other,’ ” Saggau said. “In those five minutes, decisions are made that can influence someone’s entire life.”

Former LAPD Deputy Chief Stephen Downing, a longtime critic of law enforcement, said the work isn’t finished, either within the department or in the larger law enforcement community.

“These biases still exist. But is it better than it was nine years ago? I have to say yes, because people are working at it,” he said. “I think, frankly, much more can be done.”

Downing pointed to discrimination lawsuits brought by Black LAPD officers.

“We’ve seen them win in court or we’ve seen the city settle those lawsuits,” he said.

Still, Downing believes LAPD has worked to improve things, noting that the department has Black women at every rank in the force now.

“Now, you move next door to the city I live in, Long Beach … the total number of African-American women in Long Beach (police) is five,” he said.

According to data released by the Long Beach Police Department to this news organization in 2022, only 1% of the department’s 600 officers were Black women. Black men made up 5% of the department’s force. According to the 2020 U.S. Census, 12% of Long Beach’s population is Black. The Long Beach department promoted a Black woman to the rank of sergeant for the first time in its 135-history in September 2022.

“Is there bias in the system still? I think the answer has to be yes, because bias remains in our society,” Downing said.

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Source: Orange County Register

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