The Office of the Inspector General will investigate Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore and the department’s constitutional police director for the release of photos of thousands of officers, including those working undercover.
At Tuesday’s regular Police Commission meeting, Moore said he had issued “profound apologies” for how many officers first learned of the photos, which were released in response to a Records Act request. California Public. Moore said officers should have been informed in advance that the photos would be posted on an advocacy group’s public website.
But he told the committee that he was more concerned about the release of images of officers on sensitive assignments, because of the potential threats to their security.
“They are involved in criminal investigations involving drug cartels, violent street organizations, where their identity is masked for judicial oversight and the constitution,” he said. Moore conceded that the disclosure “poses a risk to them,” noting the wide availability of facial recognition technology.
The controversy began Friday with the launch of an online database, Watch the Watchers. The site posted photos of more than 9,300 Los Angeles Police Department officers, complete with name, ethnicity, rank, date of hire, division/office, and badge number. The site was created by the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition technology watchdog group, 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 police director, Moore asked the inspector general to take over the investigation to avoid a conflict of interest, he said. .
The episode has raised questions about transparency and the department’s ability to balance the public’s right to know officers against potential security 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 her goal is to find out who reviewed and authorized the posting of the photos 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 at what steps or additional steps can be taken to safeguard our membership’s personal identifiers,” he said.
Department officials have not said whether the post has compromised any ongoing investigation.
Commissioner Maria Lou Calanche said she welcomed the inspector general’s investigation and wants the results made public.
“More worrisome,” he said, “is that this point was reached without the necessary oversight.”
The chief’s comments during Tuesday’s meeting drew derision from the activists and residents present.
Several speakers noted 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 the commission members of trying to make a fuss to distract attention from the department’s own mistake.
“Nobody talks to each other, nobody knows what the hell is going on in their own apartment,” he said.
In a lengthy Twitter thread, freelance journalist Ben Camacho confirmed that he submitted the records request seeking photos of the officers. He wrote that LAPD officials did not initially cite officer safety as an argument against the post and posted a screenshot of an email exchange he had with the deputy city attorney. Hasmik Badalian Collins.
“The only officers they are excluding from disclosure are undercover officers, as expected,” an email from Collins read. “And for those missing photos, it looks like there are less than 100 of them. Again better than expected.”
In addition to filing a complaint, the police union called for Rhodes’ dismissal, citing his handling of the matter.
Rhodes did not respond to an email seeking comment on Tuesday.
Stop LAPD Spying officials have said they believe police officers, due to the nature of their job, should be subject to greater scrutiny than other citizens. The group has pushed for sweeping changes to the Los Angeles Police Department, but considers itself an abolitionist organization that wants to develop a public safety system beyond traditional policing.