The Bloods and Crips are well-known underground enterprises and are often vilified as evils of society. But another organization in blue walked the streets of Los Angeles in the 1990s: the Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums (CRASH) unit of the Rampart Division of the Los Angeles Police Department.
In one of the biggest LAPD mishaps 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 offenses included planting evidence and beating people in custody but went beyond double-dealing to include alleged involvement in the targeting of rapper The Notorious B.I.G. and working with gang members so they could get away with their offenses.
Improprieties are 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.
A main source of revenue for the dishonest 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 nefarious acts he was sworn to prevent.
In 1995, he joined an anti-gang unit called CRASH, where he started pocketing money and drugs at the direction, he says, of his partner Nino Durden. The scandal broke in 1998 when Perez was caught boosting six pounds of coke. Rather than serve a hefty sentence, Perez informed on his fellow cops. Even so, it seems he bent the investigation to serve his agenda and accused other cops of wrong-doing as revenge.
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 offenses ranging from transporting drugs to filtering funds.
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.
The cops who formed the CRASH unit were able to get away with their offenses 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 compromised 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 dishonorable section. Thus, honest cops requested to be transferred out of the division, while unscrupulous officers flooded its ranks.
The officers reduced crime in their division, but their brutal tactics and unauthorized activity undermined any success they had. One member of an underground organization said that "CRASH was basically an organization that was created like a gang." While it may seem that a member of an unlawful group comparing the police to offenders is a cliche, officers in the unit would get tattoos commemorating targets dispatched in the line of duty, and they used covert symbols to identify themselves in the same way gangs do.
On March 9, 1997, rapper Notorious B.I.G. was leaving a party while visiting Los Angeles when he was shot in a car. The case has gone unsolved for over 20 years, but one theory holds that the LAPD and Rampart officers were involved in the plot to terminate Biggie Smalls.
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 holding up a bank) and Death Row Records owner Suge Knight planned the takedown. The suit, which was dropped in 2010, alleged that Mack asked a friend from college to target the 24-year-old rapper.