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LAPD chief asks inspector general's office to investigate release of officer photos

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The Los Angeles police chief and one of his commanders are under investigation following the release of thousands of photos of LAPD officers, including many who work undercover. The photos and identifying information about more than 9,000 officers were given to a watchdog group and posted on a website called Watch the Watchers. Chief Michel Moore concedes it's put some officers at risk. LA Times investigative crime reporter Richard Winton has been covering this story and joins me now. Good morning, Richard.

RICHARD WINTON: Good morning.

FADEL: So if you could just walk us through how this happened. How did a public information request end up including the identity of undercover officers, blowing their covers, essentially?

WINTON: So what happened was there was basically a request to get these records. And there was, you know, the usual delays and sort of discussions. And there was actually a lawsuit filed. And then the city, at some point, along with the Los Angeles Police Department, decided they would turn over the photos. There was discussion that they would - these items would be turned over, but not the ones who were undercover, in some capacity - their identity would threaten their safety. Somehow, internally, within the LAPD, that wasn't really done, and only a very small group of officers' photos were withheld. And now it turns out more than 9,000 were turned over, and including in that were numerous people who do work undercover, day to day. Some of them are in deep covers. Some are assigned to task force or working, say, with the FBI or some other federal agency in some capacity.

FADEL: So what does this mean for their safety and for their investigations?

WINTON: Well, the big question is they're already apparently making efforts to protect them and sort of make sure that there's no actual threat posed to them. But no one really knows at this point because, obviously, it's not like someone wants to talk about the fact that their cover's been blown potentially. And we may not know the consequences immediately. But, yes, there is a potential here of life-and-death kind of issues for maybe a small number - maybe, like, 40 or 50 people.

FADEL: How does something like this happen? I mean, I've made a public information request where things are so heavily redacted I can't even understand the document I'm reading sometimes. So how is there such an oversight for these handful of officers?

WINTON: Well, what happened was it seems that someone - and they haven't identified who specifically, individually, in the department did this - when they filtered out who shouldn't be turned over, they didn't really go back and say to these - say to these various divisions, hey, we're going to release these photos. Are there people here undercover in these photos who we shouldn't release? Because if we do, their investigations or their joint investigations maybe with other things like the FBI, will be threatened, that just basic internal checks and balances didn't occur. And so last year, I think these photos were turned over, and eventually, they were built into this website which appeared last Friday.

FADEL: And what's the goal of the website?

WINTON: The goal of the website is basically - they're just about public disclosure and public responsibility. These are the people we pay to be the servants in Los Angeles who enforce laws.

FADEL: LA Times reporter Richard Winton. Thank you so much for your time and your reporting.

WINTON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.