While police brutality in New York and--finally--law enforcement abuses at Waco have attracted national press coverage, a massive cop scandal in Los Angeles has garnered relatively little attention outside Southern California. Within L.A., however, the expanding circle of revelations and allegations is regarded as the worst police scandal since the 1930s, when the thin blue line essentially served as the enforcement arm of the city's infamous patronage system.
At the center of the new scandals is Rafael Perez, an officer in the anti-gang CRASH unit. (The now-ironic acronym stands for "Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums.") Perez had been convicted of stealing $1 million worth of cocaine from the evidence room and, in exchange for a lighter sentence, he implicated fellow cops in a host of other crimes. The most notorious: the time Perez and his partner handcuffed an unarmed teenager, shot him in the head, planted a rifle near his body, and then claimed they had acted in self-defense. Their victim, Javier Ovando, was paralyzed by the assault and sentenced to 23 years in jail on the officers' perjured testimony. Several of Perez's charges have been corroborated by other officers, many of whom have added new allegations of their own.
At press time, more than a dozen cops have been relieved of duty. Ovando and another prisoner have already been released from jail, a third victim has been released from parole, and dozens more may be set free. A series of civilian lawsuits is also expected. The CRASH unit has been almost completely discredited in the public eye.
Frighteningly, these revelations come as more and more police departments are adopting the military-style tactics that CRASH embraced. Who's supposed to protect us when a militarized police force starts adopting gangster values?