Peter Y. Hong, Times Staff Writer
Copyright 2006 Los Angeles Times
All Rights Reserved
Dozens of Los Angeles police officers hold private investigator licenses, a far higher number than officials had previously acknowledged, a Times study of state and local records shows.
The licensed investigators include detectives in high-profile assignments. Chief William J. Bratton told the Police Commission in February that only two of his officers were licensed and that the department closely monitored such activities. Other officials later put the number at eight.
This week, LAPD Cmdr. Kenneth O. Garner said in an interview that there are probably more than 100 police officers licensed as private investigators, although he added that the department still does not have a firm figure.
"The whole issue outlines what a serious concern there is for potential conflicts of interest. The chief is concerned, the Police Commission is concerned," Garner said. "The bad news is, we didn't have a handle on this; the good news is we are going to get a handle on it."
Because police officers have access to confidential information -- such as law enforcement databases containing personal information on millions of individuals, and knowledge of ongoing cases -- many police departments ban officers from moonlighting as private eyes.
Jeffrey S. Duggan, a detective in the department's threat management unit, which handles stalking and other threats against individuals or institutions, was listed on a website as the "principal" of a firm called Infopursuit Inc. As an LAPD detective, Duggan has handled cases involving threats to celebrities, such as a 2005 incident in which actress Lindsay Lohan's car was struck by a photographer.
The website offered services including investigating stalking cases, plus criminal and background investigations as well as "telephone and cellular phone searches," under the motto "Your solution to the unknown."
The firm listed as its address a mailbox store in a Tustin strip mall, next to a Papa John's Pizza.
Duggan, who returned a phone call placed to the number listed on the website, said the site is outdated and that he stopped working for the business more than a year ago. Duggan said his wife, Christa Frankos, now runs the firm. The website states that Frankos formerly worked for the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, a Virginia-based nonprofit group.
Two hours after Duggan spoke to The Times on Wednesday, Infopursuit's website offering private investigations was taken down. Another website for the firm remains, but references to private investigations were removed.
A firm licensed to LAPD Lt. Richard H. Wall, who directs the department's mental illness project, offers background investigations and surveillance work as well as employee theft investigations and event security. Wall said the firm, Security Solution Specialists Inc., is run by his wife, Margaret Wall, a former Realtor who is also a licensed private investigator.
Wall said he has not handled investigations for the firm in the city of Los Angeles in order to avoid conflicts of interest. He said he has been distancing himself from the business in recent months, anticipating that the department may ban private investigator work.
Wall does not favor such a ban, but said, "I can read the writing on the wall. This is coming. I'm already in the process of putting all the licenses in Margaret's name."
A Times review of state records also found several detectives who have worked in the elite robbery/homicide unit licensed as private investigators, including Jimmy W. Grayson, James J. Martin and Marcella Winn.
Grayson and Winn said they have not worked as private investigators despite their licenses. "I have a teacher's credential, notary, I don't use any of them," Grayson said. Winn said she got her license "right after Rodney King. I thought we're all going to get fired and I better find something to do."
Martin, who now works in the department's counterterrorism unit, was not available for comment.
Top police union officials Robert E. Baker, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, and Vice President Timothy G. Sands also hold private investigator licenses, The Times found.
Baker and Sands did not return phone calls requesting comment.
Garner said the department is considering banning officers from working as private investigators, and will investigate whether any officers abused their LAPD positions while working as investigators.
City Councilman Jack Weiss, who chairs the council's public safety committee, said the department's inability to quickly determine which of its officers are working as private eyes shows that officers are widely flouting the LAPD's work permit policy, which requires officers to report and clear their off-duty employment. Only 10 officers have LAPD work permits to serve as private investigators, Garner said.
"What's so shocking here is the apparent total lack of knowledge of how many cops are working as P.I.s," Weiss said. "This doesn't even begin to contemplate the number who are working as unlicensed consultants or investigators. These numbers show the work permit process is a joke."
The potential conflicts for the officers have been underscored by the ongoing prosecution of Anthony Pellicano, the so-called private eye to the stars. He is accused of employing a veteran LAPD detective to gain confidential information for attorneys in criminal and civil cases.
Mark J. Arneson, who left the LAPD in 2003, also is charged with illegally pulling private data from police computers. Arneson allegedly was paid $189,000 by Pellicano.
"The Pellicano case illustrates the obvious conflict of interest when someone with access to [confidential] databases is using those for his outside employment sources," Garner said.
Weiss said if the department does not ban officers working as private investigators, he will try to do so through the City Council.
A former federal prosecutor, Weiss said a police officer working as a private investigator is akin to a prosecutor moonlighting as a defense lawyer. "I think the public would have been shocked, if when I was a prosecutor I used the skills and knowledge I acquired at public expense and used those to work for private clients," Weiss said.
Times staff writers Scott Glover, Matt Lait, Doug Smith and Richard Winton contributed to this report.
April 21, 2006
Many in LAPD have P.I. licenses