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Why Is The FBI Investigating A California Police Department?


In the border town of Calexico, California, the FBI has launched a federal investigation into the police department. Jill Replogle has been reporting on the investigation for member station KPBS.

JILL REPLOGLE: The new police chief, who started in October, says that when he got there, there was no real police work going on. He says the investigations unit didn't have any investigations going on. He found internal investigations scattered all over the place - a safe, in desk drawers, in somebody's car. He found that the department had used a lot of money from seized assets to buy spy equipment like spy glasses and, you know, lapel cameras, things like that. And then when they're looking through the footage, they find that they're spying on City Council members. They also found that they had bought a bunch of equipment to break into buildings and cars, but they have no search warrants for those searches.

RATH: Now, that new police chief, Michael Bostic, who took over in October after his predecessor was fired - some of the most damning public allegations have actually come from him. Here he is.


MICHAEL BOSTIC: They're recording City Council members, and they're using it for extortion. I can say that. That's just true. That's what they were doing.

RATH: Jill, it was an amazing moment. The police chief actually broke down and cried at one point he was so disturbed by the corruption allegations. And this guy's a 34-year veteran of the LAPD.

REPLOGLE: He says he is extremely embarrassed by the kinds of things that his cops have been up to. And he's gotten complaints from all sectors of society. I should mention that the FBI will only say that it's alleged criminal conduct by officers while on duty, so the FBI has not said exactly what they're looking into. But the chief has been very vocal about things that he's found wrong with the department.

RATH: And for being vocal, he's been sued by the police union, right?

REPLOGLE: He's being sued by the police union for things that he's said in press conferences that they think is slander.

RATH: So what does Bostic say he's going to do to clean up the department?

REPLOGLE: Well, he's already done a lot. There were four cops put on administrative leave. Two have since been fired. He completely replaced the investigations unit. And he says he's really trying to support the good cops, who he thinks have been intimidated in the past into not doing their job. And so he's trying to make sure that they can do their job.

RATH: Jill, you've been in Calexico reporting on this. How do people there view the police department and the investigation that's going on?

REPLOGLE: It's an interesting mix. It's a very small town, and so a lot of people grew up with, you know, some of the cops that are being investigated. And some people grew up with City Council members that have been sort of pushing for the investigation, so it's a very sort of divided opinion on what's going on. And a lot of people just don't believe that there's real serious criminal activity going on. Others say it was high time for a cleanup. They've been bullied by cops. They've had friends who have been bullied or who have had their investigations go nowhere, and they say, you know, it's about time.

RATH: Jill Replogle has been reporting on the FBI investigation of the police department in Calexico, California. Jill, thank you.

REPLOGLE: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.