An ongoing investigation into city wide corruption has presented the Los Angeles County district attorney's office with a most interesting document. Titled “Bell Police Department Baseball Game,” the internal memo outlines the rules for a ticketing competition amongst officers which assigns “singles,” “doubles,” “triples” and “home runs” to specific traffic violations and infractions. Issuing tickets, impounding cars and arresting sometimes innocent motorists are all fair play in Bell where the end goal is increased revenue for the city and “non performers” get “sent for minor league rehab stint.”
These are not my accusations but those of Bell police officers, some of whom claim that they were rebuked when they did not meet their quotas. Acting on a number of complaints that Bell police have been violating the civil rights of motorists, the U.S. Department of Justice has expanded its inquiries into the police department's role in the city's seedy political machine. The Bell police baseball game memo is the latest and shiniest gem to be unearthed by investigators.
The memo assigns "hits" to traffic violations. Officers who hand out a parking ticket could earn a “single.” An infraction that leads to a car being impounded is potentially worth a "triple." Home runs are achieved with a “felony arrest upon observation,” whatever that means. The one-page document states that scoring is to be done on the "honor system" and that cheating would “result in a one-day suspension." The Los Angeles County DA received the memo last week and has launched an investigation of its own. It has already charged eight current and former Bell officials with public corruption, including Robert Rizzo – a former city administrator who earned more than $800,000 a year.
Two Bell Police officials admit they knew about the memo (which they claim was written by lower ranking patrolmen to “challenge themselves”), but they say it was “squashed” by department leaders when it came to their attention several years ago.
Ruben Vives and Jeff Gottlieb of the Los Angeles times inform us of the scandal in a recent expose:
“After the Bell salary scandal broke last summer, residents complained that police had improperly towed cars, fined drivers and charged exorbitant impound fees in an effort to boost city revenues...Bell's budget shows that over the years the city has generated increased revenue from fees and taxes. City records show Bell levied nearly $1 million in impound fees in fiscal year 2008-09 alone. Bell charged $300 for unlicensed motorists to retrieve their cars, triple what Los Angeles County and neighboring cities charge...
Bell police officers said in interviews this summer that they often spent their shifts pulling over drivers for small infractions in the hope that they would be unlicensed...Several officers also have said top brass gave them what amounted to a daily quota of cars to tow, with some saying that their jobs were at risk if they didn't meet the goal. [Capt. Anthony] Miranda has said that in 2009, officers were given a daily goal of two towed cars, three moving-violation tickets and one arrest.”
The memo's appearance in the press comes at a politically opportune time for those who oppose the candidates that the Bell police department is backing in next week's City Council elections. Like every other municipality in the state, Bell is suffering a city budget crisis. Unlike most other citys, Bell is entertaining the idea that a police department isn't a necessary part of its bureaucracy. Some city officials think that contracting with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department for public safety services would be more palatable for taxpayers.
The memo can be viewed here.