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BRATTON FEELS MUZZLED ON DISCIPLINE CRITICS HIT SECRECY IN FATAL SHOOTING OF BOY, 13, BY OFFICER.

Byline: RICK ORLOV Staff Writer

Voicing frustration at legal constraints, Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton urged political leaders and activists Thursday to create greater public transparency for details of investigations involving police officers.

``I come from the East Coast where we had more freedom to discuss what was going on,'' Bratton said. ``Out here, I feel like I have a muzzle on.''

Bratton's comments came after a Board of Rights hearing this week determined that Officer Steven Garcia had not acted outside policy in the 2005 shooting of 13-year-old Devin Brown.

Media reports of the Board of Rights determination -- which countered an earlier Police Commission finding that the shooting violated policy -- have generated new controversy over discipline of police officers.

But City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo's office issued an opinion saying case law prohibits officials from discussing any details of discipline involving an individual officer under the state's Police Officers Bill of Rights.

And a state case involving the Copley Press and San Diego police last August indicated officers have a right to privacy in disciplinary cases.

``I would like to comment on (the case),'' Bratton said Thursday. ``We have nothing to hide. I would like to talk about how this was the most extensive investigation ever conducted -- but we can't.''

Earl Ofari Hutchinson of the Public Policy Roundtable said the way the situation was handled deepens suspicion of the Los Angeles Police Department.

``The ruling points out glaring flaws in police discipline cases,'' Hutchinson said. ``One, that the decision was made in secret and, two, no reason was given for it.

``This lack of public disclosure deepens suspicion in the African-American community that the LAPD is more interested in protecting officers than in curbing police abuse.''

Bratton said the Los Angeles City Charter lays out the procedures for discipline.

``The Police Commission sets the policy, but it's the Board of Rights that determines discipline, and they are the final authority,'' Bratton said.

Aides to Delgadillo said they would not discuss their legal opinion because of attorney-client privilege.

Several city officials, including Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, have voiced frustration at restrictions on their right to comment. Councilman Jack Weiss, who chairs the City Council's Public Safety Committee, said he is planning hearings on the matter.

``The mayor believes the Board of Rights process should be as open and transparent as possible,'' spokesman Matt Szabo said. ``Transparency in the Board of Rights process would benefit both the public and the officers facing disciplinary action.''

Officials with the Los Angeles Police Protective League said they would oppose any change.

``The Board of Rights hearing process is being mischaracterized,'' said Bob Baker, president of the league. ``The public is represented in the Board of Rights hearings with a representative.

``What is also important is protecting the right of privacy of an individual police officer.''

Bratton said he will not campaign for any change, but would support an effort.

``It's up to the elected officials and the public advocates to pursue it,'' Bratton said. ``I would speak out for it. I think if we can explain it, even our officers would support it.''

Weiss said he has talked with Police Commission President John Mack about a joint hearing in the next two weeks.

``We aren't going to go back and look at this case again, but we will look at what can be done to increase transparency and accountability,'' Weiss said.

rick.orlov@dailynews.com

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jan 12, 2007
Words:572
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