FIXING RAMPART FALLS ON CAPT. HANSOHN.
The foot-long ``CRASH'' sign on the dark blue door of Rampart Division's anti-gang unit recently came down, symbolizing the LAPD's effort to remove the stain of scandal left by rogue officers who may have sent hundreds of innocent people to jail.
Taking down a sign was easy. What's not so simple is to rehabilitate an entire division, especially one at the heart of the worst corruption scandal in LAPD history.
That job went to Capt. Robert B. Hansohn, a 29-year veteran with five commands in his dossier. Hansohn, 53, exhibits a soft-spokenness that belies his reputation for never having backed down from a challenge.
Still, he wasn't prepared for what he found at Rampart.
``It became evident right away something was wrong,'' Hansohn said in an interview with the Daily News last week. ``Each command has its own personality, but this was the most unusual I'd encountered. There were some amazing conditions.''
Hansohn, who started as a rookie at Rampart in 1972, said he expected to find an ethic of hard work, a high number of arrests and tremendous officer loyalty. He was shocked at how those ideals had been perverted.
``Those things can work for or against you,'' he said. ``In CRASH, they went to the dark side.''
Hansohn took over in August 1998 after investigators had turned up evidence that significant misconduct may have occurred in Rampart. He was assigned the task of restructuring the division.
Nineteen months later, the worst abuses have been cleaned up, but morale still is fragile as officers cope with around-the-clock news cameras and rising violence among emboldened gang members - up nearly 40 percent in the first two months of this year.
A confidential Los Angeles Police Protective League survey of captains departmentwide found more than 50 Rampart officers were discouraged that Hansohn seems so fixated on the scandal he's not stepping forward to promote their efforts and boost the station's image.
``It's kind of the bad kid in the family syndrome, where parents forget the good kids need a pat on the back now and then,'' said police union director/secretary Ken Hillman. ``He got high marks for integrity and trustworthiness, but they think the division needs someone who will get out in front for them.''
Detective Danny Burzumato, who has worked upstairs from the CRASH unit for years, said it's tough being painted by a corruption scandal that ended internally many months ago.
``It was a pretty severe hit,'' he said. ``It's embarrassing. People have done a lot of good work here.''
PEREZ WAS HUSH-HUSH
In July 1998, Hansohn was enjoying his first day of vacation away from the Harbor Division when he received an urgent call from a superior telling him to report ``post-haste'' to Rampart, that there were ``some problems'' there.
The details were sketchy, Hansohn recalled. The investigation into dirty cop Rafael Perez, now the government's key witness, was so hush- hush that no one mentioned it to the new captain.
Chief Bernard C. Parks last month explained during a press conference he needed a strong veteran to handle the Rampart emergency.
``Hansohn's a 100 percent company man,'' said union President Ted Hunt.
As the new guy, Hansohn said, he expected some resistance from Rampart cops, who were devoted to their former captain. But he said he had never before encountered such defensiveness, such ``anti-managerial, anti-chief'' sentiment as when he walked through the door at Rampart.
``I was distrusted by the officers, many of whom felt I was brought in to clean up Rampart,'' Hansohn said.
The division included two station houses, one holding 450 mostly patrol officers, the other 150 detectives and the anti-gang CRASH unit.
``There were all these subtle things, little signals that there were serious underlying problems,'' Hansohn said. ``There were a tremendous number of rumors and other symptoms of an organization under stress.''
Hansohn said only his intuition, which warned him of entrenched problems, prepared him for the corruption scandal that was about to explode and put the station in international headlines.
Within two weeks of his arrival, investigators told him that one of his CRASH officers, Perez, was about to be arrested for stealing eight pounds of cocaine from a department evidence locker.
Hansohn said he stood face-to-face with Perez for the first and last time a couple of days later to take away his gun and badge.
The officer, ``who, if the truth be known, may have felt he ran CRASH,'' didn't have much to say, Hansohn said.
A few hours later, Hansohn was standing in front of a near-mutinous CRASH unit that refused to believe one of its most popular comrades could have committed such a crime.
``There was total disbelief,'' Hansohn said. ``There was a general sense among some that the department's management must have fabricated this crazy charge against Perez. They wouldn't believe he could have committed the criminal theft of narcotics.''
The strain within CRASH intensified as other favorite supervisors and CRASH officers were quickly transferred, or later placed on administrative leave, including a captain and four lieutenants and sergeants.
It would emerge later in the confidential testimony of Perez, which was obtained by the Daily News, that Hansohn was methodically dismantling ``Fort Apache,'' the self-proclaimed and self-selected CRASH elite. The clique included members who wore a ``dead man's hand'' patch off duty and who attended drinking parties, or ``mug'' parties, at the Police Academy while still on duty and in uniform.
``Morale was terrible,'' he added. ``I was the only person in the world no one liked. Their anger was directed at me. I was standing alone, but I thought we would push through it eventually.''
REPAIRING AN 'OLD CAR'
At the same time, Rampart officers were supposed to be fighting crime on the city's toughest streets, where 300,000 people co-exist in eight square miles with some of the most notorious street gangs in the country. The 16 CRASH officers and two sergeants were a critical cog in that effort.
``It was like trying to fix an old car while you're driving it to work,'' Hansohn said. ``At some point you have to take the engine out.''
Hansohn said he deliberately held officers to the highest possible standards. He said he wanted to change a culture where loyalty to fellow officers superseded responsibility to the community.
``I think I was different from any captain they'd had before because I was holding everyone accountable,'' he said.
Initially, officers who had routinely failed to properly investigate citizen complaints were stunned when they were required to fill out reports for minor lapses.
Hansohn said the first time he asked for a ``comment card,'' the officer and sergeant were shocked that a document would be required for something ``trivial.'' Hansohn said he was just as disturbed by their reaction to what's a standard law enforcement practice.
``The negative reaction was disproportionate,'' he said. ``The sergeant had never considered doing this before.''
But it was his own audits, spanning about two years, that convinced Hansohn that the station was cloaking its misdeeds, and neglecting, if not trampling upon, the public's interests and rights.
A number of citizen complaints were ``not fairly adjudicated,'' he said.
For instance, cases that pitted an officer's word against a citizen's word were often classified as ``unfounded'' because the officer was automatically believed. They should have been classified as ``unresolved,'' which would have given the benefit of the doubt to both parties.
Properly classified ``unresolved'' complaints could have raised a red flag that an officer was engaged in misconduct, he said.
US vs. THEM
Hansohn said as new CRASH officers were brought into Rampart, he preached that all arrests had to be within the law.
``When you peel it all back, this is a community that by and large doesn't care what we do to suspects,'' he said. ``But we can't subscribe to that.''
Perez described in the transcripts an ``us vs. them'' mind-set in justifying the ruthless and lawless culture within the Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums unit. Hansohn said he quickly squelched any such ideas.
``The only difference between 'us and them' is that we have to follow the rules,'' he said. ``If we don't we're worse than they are. There's no place where the ends justify the means.''
Hansohn said good police work is the key ingredient to making arrests, not illegal searches, planted evidence and perjury.
``Suspects aren't that hard to arrest,'' he said. ``We're as smart, or smarter, and we have better resources.''
There is no quota for arrests, though Hansohn proudly notes that in a recent week Rampart did lead the city's LAPD divisions in that category.
``But we're going to do it the right way, the clean way,'' he said. ``If they do it that way, I don't really care about the numbers.''
Hansohn said he has changed the station by being firm and fair.
``You're like a coach,'' he said. ``You can't walk with your head down and you have to have a good sense of humor. You can't be cynical and you can't be defeatist.''
Hansohn said he plans to retire in a year, and that Rampart may be the end of his career. He said the task now is to regain the community's trust.
``Every day,'' he said, ``we do that by going out and doing the right thing, by following the rules and treating people with respect.''
Photo: (color) LAPD Capt. Robert B. Hansohn has taken on the challenge of turning around the Rampart Division.
Tina Burch/Staff Photographer