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LAPD chief: Inspector general will probe release of photos of undercover officers to website

The “Watch the Watchers” website posted photos of over 9,300 LAPD personnel, including undercover officers


Hamid Khan, seen here at a February news conference to oppose the reappointment of LAPD police Chief Michel Moore, is an organizer with the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, which has launched a searchable online database of LAPD officers, Watch the Watchers.

Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times/TNS

By Richard Winton and Libor Jany
Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — The Office of the Inspector General will investigate LAPD Chief Michel Moore and the department’s constitutional policing director over the disclosure of photos of thousands of officers, including those who work undercover.

At Tuesday’s regular meeting of the Police Commission, Moore said he had issued “deep apologies” for the way many officers first learned of the photos, which were released in response to a California Public Records Act request. Moore said officers should have been made aware in advance that the photos would be published on an advocacy group’s public website.

But he told the commission he was more concerned that images of officers on sensitive assignments were released, because of potential threats to their safety.

“They are involved in criminal investigations involving drug cartels, violent street organizations, in which their identity to court oversight and constitution is masked,” he said. Moore conceded that the disclosure “poses a risk to them,” noting the widespread availability of facial-recognition technology.

The controversy began Friday with the launch of a searchable online database, Watch the Watchers. The site published photos of more than 9,300 Los Angeles Police Department officers, complete with name, ethnicity, rank, date of hire, division/bureau and badge number. The site was created by the technology watchdog group Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, which called the effort the first of its kind in the United States.

Moore said that upon learning of the site, he immediately launched an internal investigation. But after the Los Angeles Police Protective League filed a complaint against him and Liz Rhodes, the LAPD’s constitutional policing director, Moore asked the inspector general to take over the probe to avoid a conflict of interest, he said.

The episode has prompted questions about transparency and the department’s ability to balance the public’s right to officer information against potential safety concerns.

The chief said he has taken steps to address the fears of those whose photos were released, including working with the undercover officers “to understand what steps can be taken to protect their identity.”

Moore said he aims to discover who reviewed and authorized the photos’ release in order to prevent it from happening again. However, he said, the city attorney has determined that the department was legally required to turn over the images under the Public Records Act.

“We will look to what steps or added steps can be taken to safeguard the personal identifiers of our membership,” he said.

Department officials have not said whether the release has compromised any current investigations.

Commissioner Maria Lou Calanche said she welcomed the inspector general’s investigation and wants the results made public.

“More concerning,” she said, “is it got to this point without the oversight that was needed.”

The chief’s comments during Tuesday’s meeting drew scoffs from activists and residents in attendance.

Several speakers pointed out that the photos were obtained through a public records request and that their release was approved by department leadership. Hamid Khan, an organizer with the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, accused Moore and commission members of trying to drum up a scandal to distract from the department’s own mistake.

“Nobody’s talking to each other, nobody knows what the f--- is going on in their own department,” he said.

In a lengthy Twitter thread, independent journalist Ben Camacho confirmed that he filed the records request seeking photos of officers. He wrote that LAPD officials did not at first cite officer safety as an argument against the release and posted a screenshot of an email exchange he had with Deputy City Attorney Hasmik Badalian Collins.

“The only officers they are excluding from disclosure are undercover officers, which is expected,” an email from Collins read. “And for those who are missing pictures, it appears like there are less than 100 of them. Again better than expected.”

In addition to filing a complaint, the police union called for Rhodes’ firing, citing her handling of the matter.

Rhodes did not respond to an email seeking comment Tuesday.

Stop LAPD Spying officials have said they believe that police officers, due to the nature of their work, should be subject to more scrutiny than other citizens.

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