PUBLIC SAFETY FACILITY — Santa Monica Police Chief Tim Jackman in a memo to the mayor and City Council accepted “full responsibility” for the flawed investigation of school board member Oscar de la Torre, and said oversight of his officers has increased.

The memo, which is dated July 13, 2011, and can be found on City Hall’s website, represents the first time Jackman has officially taken the blame for the investigation, which was heavily criticized by the Los Angeles County Office of Independent Review, a civilian oversight group established in 2001 by the Board of Supervisors.

The OIR report, which was ordered by City Manager Rod Gould following public outcry that the investigation was politically motivated, said that while it was appropriate for the SMPD to examine de la Torre’s actions during a fist fight between two teens, as was sending the case on to prosecutors, the lead investigator’s actions were questionable, his report containing “an unusual mixture of facts and advocacy,” the report stated.

“Members of our community have been understandably upset by the de la Torre investigation and its aftermath,” Jackman wrote in the memo. “We are striving to ensure that the future investigation of any member of the community is done in a way that reflects the highest standards of our profession.”

Jackman went on to write that “for those seeking to hold someone accountable the responsibility is mine alone.”

The memo was released nearly five months after Gould publicly acknowledged that the SMPD mishandled the investigation and took full responsibility for the failings noted in the OIR report. At that time Gould said the SMPD was committed to a list of reforms meant to improve investigative procedures within the agency.

“Clearly, people wanted to hear it from me,” Jackman told the Daily Press Thursday.

de la Torre became the focus of an SMPD investigation in March of 2010 after he showed up at the scene of a fist fight between two Santa Monica High School students near the Pico Youth & Family Center, which he runs. The center receives funding from City Hall.

Police argued that de la Torre failed to intervene in the fight promptly based on a cell phone video taken by a bystander that showed him stepping in after about a minute. Detectives presented a felony child endangerment case to the District Attorney’s Office, but prosecutors declined to press charges.

A frequent critic of the police department who runs a non-profit that offers programs for at-risk youth, de la Torre denied any wrongdoing in connection with the fight and called the investigation “an abuse of police practices with a malicious intent.”

A two-term member of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, de la Torre had considered a bid for City Council in November but instead ran for and won a third term on the school board.

In an interview Thursday, de la Torre said he was pleased that Jackman was stepping up, but he still feels more needs to be done to restore trust in the department. He believes Jackman should come before the council to answer questions elected officials may have about reforms and the investigation itself.

de la Torre would also like to know if a review of the lead investigator, Sgt. Dave Thomas, has been conducted and if other cases he handled need to be reviewed. Jackman said he was prohibited from commenting on any internal investigation into an employee’s conduct because it is a personnel matter.

“I support law enforcement and believe they play an important role in our community, but you can’t abuse your authority,” de la Torre said.

“Many of us are convinced that bad reporting and a lack of oversight are not the root causes of the problem,” de la Torre added. “I think that hate, bias and selective enforcement are the root causes. … To me it was clear, as soon as I made my intentions to run for City Council known, [members of the police department] launched a four-month investigation targeting me.”

Jackman said his department has made progress toward meeting seven recommendations made in the OIR report, but he wants to go further, conducting an internal analysis that found that “our internal systems and processes for handling high profile investigations were flawed.”

A second layer of oversight has been added and more thorough reviews of investigations will be conducted by supervisors, ensuring that “reports adequately reflect an objective investigation … .”

In high-profile cases, the chief and deputy chief of police will also sign off on final reports so there is accountability. Officers assigned to specialized units will be interviewed to see if they have had all the proper training specific to their new duties, according to the memo. If they do not, training will be given “as soon as practical upon assignment.”

“I think we have an extraordinary police department and we hold ourselves to the very highest of standards and if you are going to do that, you have to be willing to do some internal reflection … to make yourself better,” Jackman said. “We are quite willing to do that.”

kevinh@www.smdp.com

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