Los Angeles Leads the Way in Police Auditing

After a police scandal involving illegal and unethical behavior, Los Angeles started the nation’s first school designed to train people to audit cops.
by | May 30, 2013 AT 3:00 AM

Jodi Wakefield had never planned to lead a bunch of police performance auditors. Her star had risen steadily in the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). She’d been promoted by then-Police Chief William Bratton and, she says, “raised as a Bratton baby captain,” so she was familiar with his CompStat performance management system.

In 2009, Wakefield was asked to command two units that later were combined into the Internal Audits and Inspections Division (IAID). The original audit division had been created in 2001 under the consent decree that the LAPD and the city entered into with the U.S. Department of Justice as a result of the scandal in the department’s Rampart Division. The scandal involved egregious violations of civil rights, inappropriate use of force, and illegal and unethical behavior by dozens of police officers.

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But Wakefield’s shop goes far beyond monitoring the LAPD’s use of force. IAID audits the department’s most sensitive functions, including search warrant applications, arrest reports, motor vehicle and pedestrian stops, confidential informant matters, and the handling of personnel complaints. The audits are presented publicly to the police commission and are available on the department’s website.

In 2004, the audit unit established the nation’s first Police Performance Auditing School, which teaches law enforcement professionals and auditors the fundamentals of auditing police functions. Today the IAID has about 50 staff. While not required to, the division follows the standards for performance auditing issued by the comptroller general of the United States and is planning to undergo an external quality-control review in the near future.

Wakefield and her chief audit manager point out that their operation is different from most city audit functions because those offices are heavily focused on efficiency and effectiveness. While those are important, the IAID’s overriding concern is with civil rights and compliance with policy and procedure. When police departments get into trouble, it is almost always because of violations of procedures.

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Too many experts in police accountability, Wakefield says, don’t recognize the value of performance auditing. They focus on internal affairs or professional standards bureaus, but that tends to treat problems as simply involving “bad apples” instead of looking systemically at policy, procedures and training as the source of the problems.

Wakefield says the LAPD has improved enormously since the days of the Rampart and Rodney King scandals. That doesn’t seem to be an empty boast. The federal consent order was recently withdrawn. And Wakefield says her staff gets a couple of calls a month from other law enforcement agencies wanting to learn how to establish their own performance audit units. IAID is working with the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department and the Seattle Police Department, both of which are embroiled with the Justice Department in their own controversies over their officers’ use of force. Wakefield’s division holds regular police performance auditing seminars that attract hundreds of attendees. Last year she and her top staff spent four days in Kosovo, in the Balkans, training people there in police performance auditing.