LAFD Discipline Audit Critical of Alternative Process

The release of an internal audit of the Los Angeles City Fire Department’s alternative investigation process seems not only to have criticized the department, it appears to have totally confused many media outlets who are reporting that the audit faulted the department’s entire disciplinary process.

The confusion is understandable as the distinction is subtle. Here is what CBS Los Angeles said about the audit: “An internal audit of the Los Angeles Fire Department released Wednesday faults Chief Cummings, union officials and members of an internal investigation team for failing to properly investigate misconduct allegations.”

Compare that to the LA Times, who got alot closer: “The Los Angeles Fire De­part­ment has failed to prop­erly in­vest­ig­ate mis­con­duct al­leg­a­tions against the fire chief, top uni­on of­fi­cials and mem­bers of an elite unit that delves in­to charges in­volving rank and file fire­fight­ers, ac­cord­ing to an audit presen­ted to the city Fire Com­mis­sion Tues­day.”

The audit was actually conducted on the LAFD’s alternative disciplinary process, which the auditor's report explains as follows: “The Fire Department uses an alternative investigative process when the investigation of complaints could create a conflict of interest, such as those involving the Professional Standards Division (PSD), the Fire Chief or union officials.”

The audit did not extend to an analysis of LAFD’s newly retooled Professional Standards Division [the “elite unit” that the LA Times referenced], the division that investigates the lions share of complaints and allegations of misconduct by the majority of LAFD personnel.

Among the key findings of the alternative investigation process audit:

  1. Key witnesses were not interviewed. Those who were interviewed were not thoroughly questioned and important, relevant documents were not collected, discussed or even mentioned.
  2. The alternative investigation failed to fully comply with the FBOR [California Firefighter Bill of Rights] and relevant collective bargaining agreements.
  3. The Department failed to investigate allegations that a member's constitutional rights and his right to privacy had been violated, even after the Fire Chief said such an investigation would be conducted.
  4. Whether City manpower, resources and materials were misused at the request of a defense representative was not adequately investigated.

Among the audit’s recommendations:

  1. regularly evaluating how the Fire Chief is managing the disciplinary process;
  2. holding investigators, supervisors and the Fire Chief accountable to ensure that investigations are complete and proceed in a timely manner; and
  3. referring complaints involving the Fire Chief to the Mayor.

Here is a copy of the audit. bfc-13-039-assessment-of-the-alternative

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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