Gangs like the Bloods and Crips are well-known criminal enterprises and are often vilified as evils of society. But another gang, a gang in blue, walked the streets of Los Angeles in the 1990s: the C.R.A.S.H. Unit of the Rampart Division of the Los Angeles Police Department.
In one of the biggest LAPD screw-ups of all time, the impact of the LAPD Rampart Scandal was widespread, rippled through thousands of cases, cost the City of Los Angeles millions of dollars, and ruined countless lives. Los Angeles Police corruption included planting evidence and beating people in custody, but went beyond pedestrian fraud to include potentially murdering rapper The Notorious B.I.G. and working with gang members so they could get away with their crimes. Misconduct is common in undercover cop stories, but the scandal involving the Los Angeles Police Department's Rampart Division actually led to reforms and changes in the police department and sent several officers to jail.
The Case Broke When A Cop Was Caught Stealing Cocaine
A main source of revenue for the corrupt cops of Rampart was selling confiscated drugs to dealers. Rafael Perez was a former Marine who joined the LAPD in 1989. He was a good cop, until he started committing the kinds of crimes he was sworn to prevent.
In 1995 he joined an anti-gang unit called CRASH, where he started stealing money and drugs at the direction, he says, of his partner Nino Durden. The scandal broke in 1998, when Perez was caught stealing eight pounds of cocaine. Rather than serve a hefty sentence, Perez informed on his fellow cops. Even so, it seems he bent the investigation to serve his agenda, accused other cops of misconduct as revenge.
Cops Got Paid Big Money Working Security For Death Row Records
Some officers in the LAPD apparently had no problem with working for a record label that produced a song called "F*ck tha Police." In fact, Death Row Records employed several off-duty officers as security guards. At the time, the label was under investigation by federal agencies for crimes ranging from drug trafficking to money laundering.
The police officers working for the label included Rafael Perez, a central figure in breaking the case. The cops working for Death Row were also not exactly discrete. One officer didn't hide his extra income at all. He regularly wore pricey clothing, and drove a Mercedes Benz.
CRASH Cops Had Gang-Like Initiation Rituals And Power Structure
The cops who formed the CRASH unit were able to get away with their crimes because they created an insulated membership that avoided oversight from the LAPD leadership structure. To join CRASH, an officer needed an existing member of the unit to sponsor him. This ensured corrupt officers could choose like-minded individuals for the unit.
Once a part of CRASH, cops had to prove their loyalty by planting evidence on suspects, and were monitored to ensure they didn't turn snitch against their fellow officers. The Rampart division gained notoriety within the department as an entirely corrupt section. Thus, honest cops requested to be transferred out of the division, while corrupt officers flooded its ranks.
The officers reduced crime in their division, but their brutal tactics and criminal activity undermined any success they had. One gang member said that, "CRASH was basically an organization that was created like a gang." While it may seem that a gang member comparing the police to criminals is a cliche, officers in the unit would get tattoos commemorating kills in the line of duty, and used covert symbols to identify themselves in the same way gangs do.
The Officers May Have Been Involved In The Murder Of The Notorious B.I.G.
On March 9, 1997, rapper Notorious B.I.G. was leaving a party while visiting Los Angeles, when he was shot to death in a car. The murder has gone unsolved for over 20 years, but one theory holds that the LAPD and Rampart officers were involved in the plot to kill Biggie.
The rapper's mother was so convinced the police were involved, she filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the department on the grounds that police officer David Mack (who later went to jail for robbing a bank) and Death Row Records owner Suge Knight planned the murder. The suit, which was dropped in 2010, alleged that Mack asked a friend from college to kill the 24 year-old rapper.