THE TIMES POLL : Majority Says Brutality by L.A. Police Is Commonplace
Los Angeles residents overwhelmingly believe that police used excessive force in arresting Rodney G. King and that instances of police brutality are commonplace, a Los Angeles Times Poll has found.
Nearly two-thirds of those polled, including a majority of Anglos, said they believe incidents of brutality by Los Angeles police are common, with 28% saying such incidents are very common.
One out of four of those surveyed said that in the last five years they had personally seen or been involved in an incident in which a Los Angeles Police Department officer used excessive force. One of three blacks said they had seen or been a party to such an incident.
The poll found widespread belief among Anglos, blacks and Latinos that King was beaten because he was black and that police generally are tougher on blacks and Latinos than they are on Anglos.
Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl F. Gates has apologized for the beating of King, calling it an “aberration.” The incident last week prompted scattered calls for the chief’s resignation by some civil rights and community activists.
More than half of those polled said that they disapprove in general of the way that Gates is handling his job. But only one of eight residents believe that the chief should resign immediately over the beating of King, which was videotaped by an onlooker.
The poll found extremely strong sentiment in favor of setting up a civilian board to review alleged cases of misconduct by Police Department officers. Three out of four city residents said they favored such a board.
In Orange County, a Times poll conducted in February, 1990, found overwhelming approval for local police departments, with more than three-quarters of the respondents saying they believe officers exercise good judgment, do not push people around and are prompt in answering calls. Nearly 90% of those surveyed in Orange County said they are confident they will be protected by police.
Similarly, in Los Angeles, the latest poll found that three of four residents have confidence in the ability of the police to protect them from crime. But it also found substantial distrust of the department.
Asked, “When it comes to being honest, what is your impression of the Los Angeles Police Department?” 50% of respondents said they had an unfavorable impression and 44% had a favorable impression.
This expression of distrust was higher than the 38% recorded in 1979 when the Times poll asked the same question after a controversial incident in which police shot to death a black woman, Eulia Love, outside her house.
Eighty-six percent of those surveyed in last week’s poll said they had seen the often-televised videotape, which shows King being repeatedly kicked and clubbed more than 50 times by uniformed officers.
The beating occurred after police said King had led them on a high-speed chase that ended with him refusing to leave his car. Police said that when King emerged they thought he might have a weapon.
King, however, has said that he pulled his car over as soon as police requested and that his manner was cooperative.
Asked whether they believed King’s version or the police’s, respondents favored King’s by a margin of 52% to 15%. The rest were unsure.
Blacks were most distrustful of the police account, declaring belief in King’s version by a margin of 78% to 2%.
Whether they believed King resisted arrest or not, an overwhelming majority of those polled--92%--believed police used “too much” force against King.
Even 89% of those who believe King resisted arrest said officers used excessive force.
The poll was taken by telephone Thursday and Friday nights, as officials were reacting to the incident.
On Thursday, Gates told a news conference that he was asking the district attorney’s office to file felony charges against three of the 15 officers at the scene, and planned to administratively discipline the sergeant who was present and to discipline as many as 11 other officers.
On Friday, the district attorney’s office announced that it would take the case before the county grand jury Monday and that more than three officers might be criminally charged.
Despite moves to prosecute those responsible, the poll found that only 28% said they were very confident that “justice will end up being done.” Another 30% were somewhat confident; 23% were somewhat doubtful and 14% very doubtful. The rest were not sure.
In their assessment of how common police brutality is, 63% of all surveyed said it was common, with 28% saying it was “very common” and 35% “fairly common.”
Among Anglos, 19% said it was very common and 39% fairly common.
Among Latinos, 33% said it was very common and 27% fairly common.
Among blacks, 44% said brutality is very common and 36% fairly common.
A plurality of those surveyed said they believe that the problem of Los Angeles police officers striking suspects because they think the suspects will not be dealt with appropriately by the courts is increasing.
Forty-seven percent said such incidents of “street justice” have increased over the last 10 years.
By contrast, only 3% of Los Angeles officers polled by The Times last summer said street justice had increased; 67% said it had decreased.
Despite the evident gulf between citizens and police on perceptions of police brutality and honesty, residents still have considerable confidence in their Police Department’s ability to protect them from crime and help them in other ways.
Overall, 54% of those surveyed reported some confidence, and an additional 22% reported “a lot” of confidence that police will protect them from crime.
A majority of Latinos and Anglos and a plurality of blacks reported a somewhat or very favorable impression of the Police Department “when it comes to holding down crime.” Among all respondents, 39% reported a somewhat favorable impression and 13% a very favorable impression of the department’s crime-fighting ability.
Moreover, 44% reported a somewhat favorable impression of the police “when it comes to helping citizens.” An additional 15% said they had a very favorable impression.
But in response to the comprehensive question, “Do you approve or disapprove of the way the Los Angeles Police Department is doing its job?” city residents were nearly evenly split, with 46% saying they approved and 47% reporting that they disapproved.
This represented a nose dive from a measurement taken in 1988, when The Times Poll found that 74% of city residents approved of the job the department was doing.
In last week’s poll, Anglos were evenly divided on the department’s performance. Latinos approved by a margin of 51% to 41%. Blacks disapproved by a margin of nearly 3 to 1.
Gates’ approval rating has also plummeted.
Thirty-three percent said they approved of the job the chief was doing. Fifty-five percent said they disapproved.
Approval was highest among Anglos--with 36% pleased with the chief--and lowest among blacks, with 23% endorsing his performance.
By contrast, the 1988 Times Poll found that 61% of city residents, including a majority of blacks, approved of the job Gates was doing.
However, there is minimal support for his immediate resignation, favored by 13% of those polled last week; and only moderate support, an additional 27%, for his resignation if an investigation proves there was wrongdoing by police. Slightly less than half of those polled said he should not resign.
Mayor Tom Bradley appears to have weathered the King incident unscathed, with 61% of city residents approving of the way he is doing his job.
The Times Poll is directed by John Brennan. In conducting this poll, The Times interviewed 718 residents in the city of Los Angeles.
The overall margin of error is plus or minus 4 percentage points. The margin for subgroups is higher. For Anglos, the margin is plus or minus 6 points; for blacks it is plus or minus 8 points. For Latinos, the margin is plus or minus 9 points.
Assistant Times poll director Susan Pinkus contributed to this story.