Andre Birotte, Jr., LAPD Inspector General
Andre Birotte Jr.--Inspector General of the LAPD
By Yussuf J. Simmonds
Sentinel Managing Editor
By Brian Carter
Who is the Inspector General of the Los Angeles Police Department (L.A.P.D.) and what does his office do? Given the uneasy relationship that has existed between the L.A.P.D and the community, it is important to understand the role of the Inspector General's Office and how it relates to the community. The best way to understand that role is to introduce you to the Inspector General, Andre Birotte Jr.
He holds an undergraduate degree from Tufts University and a J.D. from Pepperdine University School of Law. Birotte began his career as a lawyer dealing with felonies, misdemeanors, preliminary hearings, pretrial conferences, arraignments and over 30 trials. He said, "I was fortunate to get a job as an assistant United States Attorney and there I enhanced my trial skills because I was dealing from the prosecution's side." Having also worked as a defense lawyer, Birotte said, "I had the opportunity to view the criminal justice system from both sides--as a defense lawyer and a prosecutor." However, the experience gave him a macro perspective of the legal world and greatly enhanced his trial skills as a legal practitioner. Eventually, he left the U.S. Attorney's office and went into civil litigation with the Quinn Emanuel Law Firm where he worked on white-collar crimes and business litigation matters.
Birotte is a member of the Los Angeles County Bar Association's Judicial Appointment's Committee and Criminal Justice Executive Committee and was on the Langston Bar Association board of directors from 1992 to 2003. He taught legal writing and advocacy at the University of Southern California Law School and has lectured at many legal forums including the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement, Community Police Advisory Boards, L.A.P.D. recruit classes and law schools. He has also made numerous media appearances speaking about issues relating to the L.A.P.D.
Armed with impressive credentials, Birotte said, "I was fortunate enough to get hired in 2001 as an assistant Inspector General," a position that would test his bilateral experience. "And in 2003, the Board of Police Commissioners appointed me as the Inspector General; so that's how I got here." In reference to working in the Inspector General's Office, he commented, "What I thought was interesting about it was the fact that you're not an advocate for one side or the other, per se. You take the facts and basically call it like you see it." The experience of being a defense/prosecution lawyer gave him an advantage on his new job.
As Inspector General, Birotte explained, "I report to the Board of Commissioners; they are the head of the police department. There are three people who report directly to the commission: the Chief of Police, the Executive Director [of the L.A.P.D.] and myself. I do not work for the Chief of Police; I do not report to the Chief of Police; I work for the Board of Commissioners." Having no official term, Birotte serves at the behest of the police commission. "My responsibilities are to act as the police commission's eyes and ears. The Board is appointed by the Mayor and they are volunteers. They have their regular jobs that they have to deal with on a daily basis so they use the executive director to act as their staff."
The Inspector General's Office is an independent entity that was created in 1996 but actually began in the early 90's after the L.A. riots. In '91, the Christopher Commission, penned after then attorney Warren Christopher, was created after the infamous Rodney King assault to make sure the L.A.P.D was operating fairly when it came to its conduct, recruitment/training, disciplinary system and complaint system. It suggested that there needed to be a body to oversee the discipline system of the police department. The forming of this new department, like any other, went through all the processes and procedures until the Inspector General's Office emerged in 1996.
The implementation of the Federal Consent Decree has been controversial ever since it was created and to that end, Birotte's department plays an important role in observing how the process is being blended into the department. "There have been numerous improvements," he continued. "How the department investigates complaints of misconduct; how the department investigates serious use of force cases; how the departments handles different operations within the department for example search warrants. The police department and our office both audit search warrants, arrest reports, gang enforcement details and their work products. And there are many more checks and balances."
"Most of our reviews and most oversight entities are reviewing cases and host incidents with one exception, Birotte cited. "For example, in officer-involved shootings, we send our staff out to the scene and monitor the events as they are unfolding. If there's a shooting, I would get a page and I would go out to the scene to monitor the investigation and meet with investigators." Birotte believes in the importance having such an office to make sure procedures are handled correctly. He makes sure that there is a collaborative effort made between his office and the Police Chief's Office and there has been significant improvement between the two departments since 2002 and the inclusion of the Federal Consent Decree.
Birotte and his staff of 32 employees consisting of lawyers, professional auditors, and law enforcement executives also review officer-involved shootings, and many other uses of force and other issues. His office has access to all information pertaining to investigations and complaints, which it reports to the Board of Police Commissioners and is charged with making sure that all issues have been identified trigger meetings with the corresponding departments to rectify and resolve all issues completely. Although Birotte's office looks over cases and complaints, the Board of Police Commissioners has the last word and the Chief of Police handles all disciplinary matters. The Inspector's Office also conducts a quarterly review of the disciplinary actions to determine whether or not, they are handled properly in accordance to set standards and guidelines.
Furthermore, he believes that the L.A.P.D. is making a better effort to address the issue of racial profiling. Also the inclusion of cameras in the police cars are a positive sign that the L.A.P.D. is moving in the right direction. Birotte would like to focus on L.A.P.D. training on racial sensitivity, bias-based policing, problems in the community and how they are investigated. Birotte feels that by concentrating on these issues, the relationship between the community and the Police Department will continue to improve. And as Inspector General, Birotte intends on making sure that justice is served on every side.