More than 300 undercover Los Angeles police officers have filed legal claims against the city of Los Angeles and the police department this week upon their names and photographs being released to a technology watchdog group that posted it to an online database. The group, Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, titled the database ‘Watch the Watchers’ and it had more than 9,300 officers’ information and photographs posted. All these events had took place after a reporter from the progressive news outlet Knock LA submitted a public records request.
Chief Michel Moore gave an official statement, admitting the mistake and deep regret for the accidental exposure. This incident unfolded one week after an official police union announced a lawsuit against a different website; Killercop.com had been accused of placing ‘bounties’ on officers’ heads and posting their pictures and personal information.
Unfortunately, the expose was not limited to state police. Apart from law enforcement personnel, the database also featured information of those working undercover. As such, no one knew exactly how many legal personnel or personnel working undercover were exposed.
The lawsuit had 321 undercover officers that claim ‘negligence’ from their employers and seek damages. These officers express their concerns for their personal and their family’s safety, and whether the city would provide any aid for protection purposes. According to lawyer Matthew McNicholas, who represents the officers, several controversial investigations had to be stopped following the request.
The City Attorney’s office had reacted reluctantly, affirming that they had to provide the material, based on outdated California law. But they allowed certain exemptions, such as safety and investigation reasons. These exemptions were applied to the online database.
Liz Rhodes, the constitutional policing director of the agency at the time, was some target of investigation. This process was initiated by a misconduct complaint coming from an officer’s union.
The Los Angeles Police Protective League (LAPPL) had filed the first lawsuit the week before. It entailed clawing back the photographs of the undercover officers already disclosed and preventing any other similar revelation in the future. Even though the LAPD accepts responsibility for the mistake, the exposed material has caused big issues.
The Stop LAPD Spying Coalition is an anti-police group that had acquired the information. According to their website, this database serves as a tool to empower community members involved in counter-surveillance and cop-watch practices. The website enables users to search records and find information on officers, such as ethnicity, rank, badge and other specific data.
It is important to mention that many of the undercover officers pose a risk of facing serious safety and security issues. The most prominent person involved in this situation is Chief Michel Moore. Even though he personally regrets the mistake and expresses his comprehension of the aftermath of such a act, it is difficult to reconcile with the situation after the fact.
The Killercop.com is a dubious website that allegedly places bounties on officers’ heads after disclosing their pictures and details. This website must be closely monitored and any attempt to infringe on the security of law enforcement personnel must be dealt with swiftly and appropriately.
Liz Rhodes has a significant level of responsibility in this situation. As the constitutional policing director of the LAPD, her job involves, amongst others, ensuring that no officer working undercover is exposed. Judging from the current state of matters, it appears that this key step was not taken.
The legal claim process may supply justice and natural compensations, but the psychological and social damage inflicted on all parties involved in this mess will be difficult to repair, and potential repercussion can be seen all throughout the law enforcement community.