The Christopher Commission on Tuesday issued a 228-page report on the activities of the Los Angeles Police Department. Here are excerpts:
CHAPTER ONE: THE KING BEATING
Rarely has the work of an amateur photographer so captured the nation’s attention as did the dramatic and disturbing scene recorded by George Holliday’s video camera in the early morning of March 3, 1991--the morning Rodney G. King, a 25-year-old African-American, was beaten by three uniformed officers of the Los Angeles Police Department while a sergeant and a large group of LAPD, California Highway Patrol, and Los Angeles Unified School District officers stood by. The Holliday tape showed the officers clubbing King with 56 baton strokes and kicking him in the head and body. Within days, television stations across the country broadcast and rebroadcast the tape, provoking a public outcry against police abuse.
Twenty-three LAPD officers responded to the scene of the Rodney King incident. Four LAPD officers--Sgt. Stacey C. Koon and Officers Laurence M. Powell, Theodore J. Briseno and Timothy Wind--were directly involved in the use of force and have been indicted on felony charges, including assault with a deadly weapon. Koon and Powell are also charged with submission of a false police report. Two of the LAPD officers were in a helicopter overhead. Ten other LAPD officers were actually present on the ground during some portion of the beating.
Based on published reports and public documents . . . it appears that three of the four indicted officers had been named in prior complaints for excessive force.
Computer, Radio Transmissions
Computer and radio messages transmitted among officers immediately after the beating raised additional concerns that the King beating was part of a larger pattern of police abuse. Shortly before the King beating, Powell’s and Wind’s patrol unit transmitted the computer message that an earlier domestic dispute between an African-American couple was “right out of ‘Gorillas in the Mist’,” a reference to a motion picture about the study of gorillas in Africa.
The initial report of the beating came at 12:56 a.m., when Koon’s unit reported to the watch commander’s desk at Foothill Station: “You just had a big-time use of force. . . . Tased and beat the suspect of CHP pursuit, big time.”
The Rodney King beating gave immediate rise to myriad questions about the Los Angeles Police Department. Concerns were voiced about the openness of the officers’ conduct; the presence of a sergeant who failed to control and indeed directed the violence; the puzzling convergence of so many officers at the end-of-pursuit location after the Code 4 broadcast that no assistance was needed; the number of officers who stood by during the beating and failed to report it afterwards; and the radio comments and computer transmissions before and after the incident that suggested a possible racial motivation and a ready acceptance of excessive force as “basic stuff” by LAPD officers.
CHAPTER TWO: LAPD POLICY ON FORCE
Because this report is largely concerned with excessive use of force, it is appropriate to set forth the Police Department’s stated policy and its guidelines regarding the proper uses of force.
“While the use of reasonable physical force may be necessary in situations which cannot be otherwise controlled, force may not be resorted to unless other reasonable alternatives have been exhausted or would clearly be ineffective under the particular circumstances. Officers are permitted to use whatever force that is reasonable and necessary to protect others or themselves from bodily harm.”
The central task of the commission was to determine whether and how the LAPD’s use of force policy and guidelines are followed in practice.
CHAPTER THREE: PROBLEM OF EXCESSIVE FORCE
The LAPD can be justifiably proud of its many strengths. It is widely recognized throughout the United States for efficiency, absence of corruption, quality of personnel, sophistication of technology, and accomplishments in crime-fighting.
The commission has found, however, that there is a significant number of officers who repetitively misuse force and persistently ignore the written policies and guidelines of the department regarding force. By their misconduct, this group of officers tarnishes the reputations of the vast majority of LAPD officers who do their increasingly difficult job of policing the city with courage, skill and judgment.
The problem of excessive force in the LAPD is fundamentally a problem of supervision, management and leadership. What leaps out from the department’s own statistics--and is confirmed by LAPD officers at the command level and in the rank and file--is that a “problem group” of officers use force and are the subject of complaints alleging excessive or improper force, far more frequently than most other officers.
Jesse Brewer, a retired 38-year LAPD veteran who served as assistant chief from 1987 until February, 1991, testified before the commission that lack of management attention and accountability is the “essence of the excessive force problem” in the LAPD:
“We know who the bad guys are. Reputations become well known, especially to the sergeants and then of course to lieutenants and the captains in the areas. We know the ones who are getting into trouble more than anyone else. But, I don’t see anyone bringing these people up and saying, ‘Look, you are not conforming, you are not measuring up . . .’ ”
Chief of Police Daryl Gates recognized, in his testimony before the commission, that the system for monitoring and counseling officers with a disturbing pattern of use of force or personnel complaints “has fallen by the wayside by some but not all” in the past four or five years and that the job “has been done too haphazardly” in recent years.
This information from commission interviews is supported by the results of a written survey of 960 randomly selected officers conducted by the LAPD in May, 1991. Thirty percent of the 650 officers responding agreed--as does this commission--that “the use of excessive force is a serious problem facing the Department.”
The LAPD has a number of tools . . . to promote and enforce its policy that only reasonable and necessary force be used by officers. . . . The commission believes that the department has not made sufficient efforts to use these tools effectively to address the significant number of officers who appear to be using force excessively and improperly.
A group of officers who appear to pose a much higher risk of using excessive force than other officers is readily identifiable in the computer data provided to the commission by the department.
When these data are sorted by officer serial number, the responses are remarkable and disturbing:
* Complaints: Of approximately 1,800 officers against whom an allegation of excessive force or improper tactics was made from 1986 through 1990, over 1,400 officers had only one or two allegations. But 183 officers had four or more allegations, 44 had six or more, 16 had eight or more, and one had 16 allegations. The top 10% of officers ranked by number of excessive force or improper tactics allegations accounted for 27.5% of all such allegations.
* Use of Force Reports: Of nearly 6,000 officers identified as involved in use of force reports from January, 1987, through March, 1991, more than 4,000 had less than five reports each. But 63 officers had 20 or more reports each. The top 5% of officers ranked by number of reports accounted for more than 20% of all reports, and the top 10% accounted for 33%.
* Shootings by Officers: Of 662 officers involved in any shooting from 1986 through April, 1991, 19 officers were involved in three or more. Blending these data identifies even more troubling patterns. For the years covered by the database, one officer had 13 allegations of excessive force and improper tactics, five other complaint allegations, 28 use-of-force reports, and one shooting; another had six excessive force and improper tactics allegations, 19 other complaint allegations, 10 use-of-force reports, and three shootings; another had seven excessive force and improper tactics allegations, seven other complaint allegations, 27 use of force reports, and one shooting; and another had eight excessive force and improper tactics allegations, nine other complaint allegations, and 35 use-of-force reports.
When asked what analysis the department had done regarding the 5% of officers filing use of force reports who accounted for over 20% of reports filed, Chief Gates replied: “If you had a buildup of that kind and not a proper audit and a careful review of it and follow-up, we would have been negligent. No question about it.”
The commission staff identified from the LAPD database the 44 officers with six or more allegations of excessive force or improper tactics for the period 1986 through 1990. The staff then reviewed these officers’ personnel files and the files of over 200 investigations by the LAPD of complaints against these officers alleging excessive force or improper tactics.
The selection of this group of officers for the commission’s study is not meant to suggest that the potential “problem officers” are limited to this group.
The LAPD computer database indicates that the use of force by officers in this group should have received careful management scrutiny. Nineteen of the 44 are in the highest 1% of all officers ranked by a cumulative total of use-of-force reports, officer-involved-shooting reports, and personnel complaint allegations. Forty of the officers are in the top 5% of this group, and all 44 are in the top 10% of this group.
As a general matter, the performance evaluation reports on these 44 officers were very positive. However, also as a general proposition, the performance evaluations failed to give an accurate picture of the disciplinary histories of these officers. They commonly did not record sustained complaints and failed to comment on the substance and significance of such complaints.
Many performance evaluations mentioned the absence of personnel complaints as a ground for concluding that a particular officer was doing well. In some instances, the statement was simply wrong.
Patrol Car Computer Communications
The existence of a significant number of officers with an unacceptable and improper attitude regarding the use of force is supported by the commission’s review of computer messages sent from patrol cars throughout the city. Those messages also evidence the LAPD’s management problem in the area of use of force.
Although the vast majority of messages reviewed appeared to be routine police communications, there were a number of messages, similar to those publicized after the King incident, in which officers from all geographical areas of the city talked about beating suspects and other members of the public: “Capture him, beat him and treat him like dirt. . . .”
Only when the MDT (mobile digital terminal) messages following the Rodney King incident inflamed the public did the department take action to monitor and audit the system. It then found, by its own count, 260 patently offensive comments over a one-month period.
Force-Related Civil Litigation
The commission staff reviewed the files of all 83 cases of alleged excessive or improper force by LAPD officers that resulted in a settlement or judgment of more than $15,000 during the five-year period 1986 through 1990. Based on the evidence examined in this review, a majority of the cases appeared to involve clear and often egregious misconduct resulting in serious injury or death to victims, although some of the cases involved accidental or negligent conduct. The LAPD’s investigation of these 83 cases was flawed in many respects, and discipline against the officers involved was frequently light or nonexistent. Moreover, the LAPD does not have adequate procedures in place to review or learn from the results of this litigation.
From 1986 through 1990, members of the public filed over 2,500 claims alleging personal injury or property damage resulting from the use of force by LAPD officers. Not all claims were pursued formally in court, but filing such a claim is prerequisite to a lawsuit.
Claims alleging excessive use of force represented the majority of all claims filed against the LAPD. During this five-year period, members of the public filed 3,716 claims with the city for non-traffic-related incidents involving the LAPD. Over two-thirds of these claims involved allegations of excessive use of force against police officers.
Although the total number of non-traffic-related claims declined consistently from 1986 to 1990, the proportion of excessive force claims remained constant. Assault and battery was the single largest category of allegations, constituting over 25% of the total allegations in all non-traffic-related claims against the LAPD.
From 1986 through 1990, the city paid in excess of $20 million in judgments, settlements and jury verdicts in over 300 lawsuits against LAPD officers alleging excessive use of force. Excessive force cases accounted for nearly 85% of the total amount of damages and settlements the city incurred in non-traffic related police litigation during this period. As with the citizen claims discussed above, assault and battery was the single largest category of allegations in all non-traffic-related police litigation.
Chief Gates testified that the LAPD lacks effective procedures or “feedback” for reviewing the results of civil litigation involving LAPD officers. . . . Given the millions of dollars paid by the city as a result of use of force by LAPD officers, and the egregious conduct revealed in some of the lawsuits, the department must establish procedures to monitor the results of civil litigation and make use of the information obtained.
Information about officers’ conduct that becomes available in the litigation should be used in evaluating those officers. Conduct that results in large settlements or judgments, including punitive damages awarded on the basis of egregious or intentional misconduct, should be carefully studied to determine what went wrong and why.
A promising possibility for reducing excessive force and assisting the LAPD and the city in defending civil litigation is video technology. The state-of-the-art technology utilizes a small camera mounted in the patrol vehicle, which can be turned on either manually, or automatically with lights or sirens.
Many LAPD officers have contended that a major problem with the department’s use of force policy is the perceived gap in “middle-level” use of force options. When dealing with a combative suspect, many officers complain of a lack of realistic department-approved options between talking and using the baton.
The department is interested in testing a chemical agent called capstun, used by the FBI and numerous other law enforcement agencies. Several officers also indicated support for the stun gun. This weapon, like the Taser, uses an electrical charge to control the suspect but, unlike the Taser, is held in contact with the suspect.
CHAPTER FOUR: RACISM AND BIAS AFFECTING USE OF EXCESSIVE FORCE
Subsequent to the King beating, an LAPD survey of 960 officers found that approximately one-quarter of 650 officers responding agreed that “racial bias (prejudice) on the part of officers toward minority citizens currently exists and contributes to a negative interaction between police and the community.” More than one-quarter of the poll’s respondents agreed that “an officer’s prejudice towards the suspect’s race may lead to the use of excessive force.”
Within the minority communities of Los Angeles, there is a widely held view that police misconduct is commonplace. The King beating refocused public attention on longstanding complaints by African- Americans, Latinos and Asians that LAPD officers frequently treat minorities differently from whites, more often using disrespectful and abusive language, employing unnecessarily intrusive practices such as the “prone-out,” and engaging in use of excessive force when dealing with minorities.
While the issue of racism in Los Angeles law enforcement is not new, the changing demographic profile of the city . . . has heightened the need for sustained efforts at finding solutions to this troubling problem.
Shortly before Officers Powell and Wind responded to the call for assistance in the pursuit of Rodney King, they had handled a domestic disturbance call at the home of an African-American family. In their exchange with the radio telephone operator over their (computers), the Powell-Wind unit described the incident as being “right out of ‘Gorillas in the Mist.’ ” The department unit receiving this message responded in what has been described as mock African-American language, “ha ha ha . . . let me guess who be the parties.”
Because of the offensive nature of the comment and response, the commission undertook the extensive general review of (computer) transcripts. This review revealed an appreciable number of disturbing and recurrent racial remarks.
Some of the remarks describe minorities through animal analogies or are derisive of ethnic origins or minority groups. “Sounds like monkey-slapping time.”
The officers typing the (computer) messages apparently had little concern that they would be disciplined or otherwise sanctioned for making those remarks.
A review of records provided by the LAPD indicates that only a small number of personnel complaints have been sustained on the ground of improper racial remarks in the seven-year period from 1984 to 1990. The sustained complaints resulted in modest penalties.
A large number of witnesses complained that there is a general climate of hostility between the police and members of minority communities and that discourtesy and verbal harassment by LAPD officers are commonplace. That perception was shared by former Assistant Chief of Police Jesse Brewer.
Discussions held with a cross-section of the city’s religious leaders indicate that even respected members of minority communities are subject to harassment by the LAPD.
Many witnesses complained of the apparent practice by the police of stopping individuals because they resemble a generalized description of a suspect or because they appear not to belong in a particular neighborhood.
Routine stops of young African-American and Latino males, seemingly without “probable cause” or “reasonable suspicion,” may be part and parcel of the LAPD’s aggressive style of policing. The practice, however, breeds resentment and hostility among those who are its targets.
The commission also heard numerous complaints about the frequency and manner of use of police dogs in minority neighborhoods.
Bias In the Treatment of Minority Police Officers
The (computer) messages and other evidence suggest that minority officers are still too frequently subjected to racist slurs and comments and to discriminatory treatment by fellow officers.
There is concern about the apparent lack of sensitivity among supervisors to the debilitating effects that racial and ethnic biases have, not only on minority officers’ acceptance and treatment within the department but on the way in which LAPD officers interact with the public. Many of the officers expressed fear that, if it were known that they were speaking to the commission on these issues, their careers might suffer or they might become known as troublemakers and be ostracized by their peers. One of the officers interviewed reported that, after meeting with members of the commission staff, he found a hangman’s noose on the telephone that he used every morning to call home from the station.
The commission was told by most of the minority officers interviewed that racially derogatory remarks are made on an ongoing basis at roll call and that racist jokes and cartoons appear from time to time on the bulletin boards in the stations’ locker rooms.
Latino officers reported they are often referred to by ethnic nicknames such as “Chico,” 'burrito-man,” and “Chuy.” African-American officers reported similar experiences involving racial slurs. Some of the Asian officers stated that, although racism against Asians is far more subtle today than 20 years ago, on an almost daily basis they hear some racist comments or reference to Asian stereotypes.
As previously noted, the LAPD has made substantial progress in hiring minorities and women since entry of the Blake consent decree in 1981. The department’s statistics show, however, that the vast majority of minority officers are concentrated in the entry level, police officer ranks of the department.
Many minority officers cite this white dominance of managerial positions within the department, even in African-American and Latino areas of the city, as one reason for the department’s continued tolerance of racially motivated language and behavior.
Bias Based on Gender
Bias within the LAPD is not limited to racist and ethnic prejudices but embraces widespread and strongly felt gender bias, as well. The commission developed little evidence that the gender bias results in excessive force or harassment of female suspects or victims. This bias does, however, result in the underutilization of female officers.
A study also was conducted by the commission of the top 10% of the LAPD officers ranked by the combined use of force reports, personnel complaints and officer-involved shootings. There were no female officers among the top 132 officers.
Despite Chief Gates’ public statements, several female LAPD officers cited Chief Gates’ choice of certain top assistants who they believe to be insensitive to women’s points of view as indicating a lack of commitment to female equality at the most senior levels.
The disparity between official policy and unofficial practice was recognized by Chief Gates in his appearance before the commission on June 14, 1991. Chief Gates testified that he was “really pleased with my women in the department,” and stated they had done a “magnificent job.” He conceded, however, that female officers, even more than officers who are gay or lesbian, had a “real tough time” in achieving acceptance.
The commission interviewed approximately 90 training officers in four divisions. While some of the training officers were supportive and complimentary of female officers, many expressed concerns that female officers were not as capable, effective, or trustworthy as their male counterparts.
“We worked with many female officers but only know one who was equal in ability to male officers.”
Bias Based on Sexual Orientation
The Los Angeles Police Department has a well-documented prior history of discrimination against gay men and lesbians.
As recently as 1988, an LAPD background investigator told a Central Division watch commander that he had identified several “faggots” in his applicant pool and was searching for reasons to disqualify them.
Current policy, set forth in the May 17, 1991, Memorandum No. 5, now prohibits such discrimination.
The hostility within the department toward homosexuals is evidenced by the absence of openly gay or lesbian officers among the LAPD’s ranks. The gay and lesbian officers interviewed recounted stories about harassment of suspected homosexual officers and about the daily patter of slurs and jokes concerning “faggots,” “dykes,” and “queers.” In mid-June, 1991, however, several gay and lesbian officers publicly identified themselves.
Both gay and heterosexual officers have noted that police are far more aggressive in enforcing minor infractions against suspected homosexuals than against presumed heterosexuals.
Bias against lesbians and gays also contributes to excessive use of force. As one LAPD officer put it: “It’s easier to thump a faggot than an average Joe. Who cares?”
The department has begun important steps to correct many of the symptoms of racism and ethnic and gender bias within the LAPD.
The department needs to acknowledge there is in fact a serious problem that must be confronted. It is not acceptable to say that prejudice exists because, as several senior officers have said, “LAPD recruits from the human race.”
The chief of police should seek tangible ways to establish the principle that racism and ethnic and gender bias will not be tolerated within the department.
The LAPD must establish a program of cultural awareness training.
A new, separate position should be created at the commander level, a “community relations officer.”
The LAPD must address the problems created in minority communities by the inappropriate and unnecessary use of the “prone-out” tactic and the practice of stopping young minority males without proper justification.
CHAPTER FIVE: COMMUNITY RELATIONS
During the past century, the purposes and methods of policing have evolved as different philosophies or models have dominated police behavior. The LAPD’s current approach is the product of a reform era that emphasized creation of professionalism within the force. A “professional” model of policing is primarily concerned with maintaining a well-disciplined, highly trained and technically sophisticated force insulated from improper political influence. Crime fighting is seen as the principal objective of policing.
Evidence from all sources . . . describes the LAPD as having a “professional” organizational culture that has emphasized crime control over crime prevention and isolated the police from the communities and the people they serve.
Assistant Chief Dotson described the LAPD as “stuck” in a “1950s sort of world view.” The consequence of the 1950s approach, according to Chief Dotson, is confrontation with the public.
A number of commanding officers share the opinion that too many LAPD patrol officers view the public with resentment and hostility. That opinion was also expressed by former Assistant Chief Brewer, who testified that he has believed for several years that officers’ conduct is “out of control” in terms of rude and disrespectful treatment of the public.
William Rathburn, chief of police of Dallas, Tex., and former deputy chief of the LAPD, testified that many techniques and procedures used by the LAPD tend to exacerbate, rather than calm, potentially volatile situations.
Community-based policing proponents argue that the existing strategy of policing--which depends on random and directed patrol, rapid response to calls for service and retrospective investigations of crime--is not succeeding. Crime remains high; the public remains fearful.
Community policing emphasizes a department-wide philosophy oriented toward problem solving rather than arrest statistics. The concept also relies heavily on the articulation of policing values that incorporate community involvement in matters that directly affect the safety and quality of neighborhood life.
Community policing concepts are not foreign to the LAPD; it has made several efforts to incorporate them into the “professionalism model” the LAPD embodies.
Beginning in 1979, Chief Gates began to emphasize priorities that turned away from the team policing system and recentralized authority in headquarters, in part because of budget constraints and a reduction in the number of officers.
Community policing concepts, if successfully implemented, offer the prospect of effective crime prevention and substantially improved community relations.
The commission believes that the LAPD should adopt the community-based policing model and implement it fully, albeit carefully, throughout the department.
CHAPTER SIX: RECRUITMENT, SELECTION AND PSYCHOLOGICAL TESTING
The commission has determined that many emotional and psychological problems develop during an officer’s tenure on the force and cannot be detected by pre-employment screening. Accordingly, a principal recommendation of the commission is that officers should be retested regularly for psychological, emotional and physical problems.
In interviews with the commission staff, employees of the city Personnel Department stated their belief that the LAPD’s background investigators often focus their attention on a candidate’s use of drugs and sexual history and gloss over information concerning a candidate’s violent tendencies and inability to interact with others.
The background investigation offers the best hope of screening out violence-prone applicants. Unfortunately, the background investigators are overworked and inadequately trained.
CHAPTER SEVEN: TRAINING
The Police Academy enjoys a reputation as an excellent training institution, and the commission found the quality of its instruction generally impressive.
Many of the cultural awareness classes now are taught with the assistance of sworn personnel from the respective minority groups. However, there is no such representation for the class on gay and lesbian issues. The department should seek the assistance of gay and lesbian officers to teach the class.
As part of the department’s effort to recognize the changing face of the communities it serves, the department provides recruits with approximately 95 hours of basic Spanish language training. The commission agrees that foreign language skills are very important. The current language program, however, has been uniformly criticized by LAPD officers as ineffective. At present, a recruit can graduate from the academy without passing this class.
At present, approximately 90-95% of each entering academy class graduates. Less than 10 years ago that rate was closer to 60%. A portion of this change, however, seems attributable to an unwillingness to terminate poorly performing recruits.
Training of Probationers
The most influential and effective training received by a probationer comes from the example set by his or her FTO (field training officer).
The high levels of fear and anxiety exhibited by FTOs color the training provided to probationers. The probationers’ world quickly is divided by their FTOs into “we/they” categories.
The “we/they” mentality is exacerbated by the failure to integrate cultural awareness or sensitivity training into field training. Few of the FTOs devote any attention to teaching probationers how to interact effectively and respectfully with minorities. Instead, probationers are often exposed to the derogatory comments, slurs and jokes that many officers have attempted to characterize as “locker-room” banter or good-natured fun. The FTO interviews provide evidence that this problem is particularly acute in reference to gay men and lesbians.
Virtually all of the FTOs interviewed stated that they would report serious police misconduct, and that they instruct their probationers to do likewise. Yet only a few in fact had ever reported misconduct or made a complaint against a fellow officer. This conflict between policy and practice was evidenced further by an apparent “code of silence,” found in a review of the FTOs’ personnel files.
Twelve of the FTOs in the four divisions studied had been disciplined for dishonesty.
CHAPTER EIGHT: PERSONNEL ISSUES
There are two types of sworn personnel advancement within the LAPD: promotion in rank and advancement in paygrade. Rank promotions are decided through a civil service examination system. Promotions in grade (that is, promotions within a rank, such as from sergeant I to sergeant II) are discretionary within the LAPD.
The information available to the Civil Service Interview Boards regarding a candidate’s complaint history and disciplinary record is limited. With this limited information, the Interview Board may not be aware of disturbing patterns of allegations of excessive force that were held not sustained. Moreover, as illustrated with respect to one group of officers . . . personnel evaluation reports often paint unduly favorable pictures of officers who appear to have significant problems in their use of excessive force.
The critical positions of field training officer and field sergeant must be given to those demonstrating an ability to train and supervise by example. Where a field training officer uses excessive force, the probationers may learn to do the same.
Assignments also can be used at the LAPD, in conjunction with other personnel policies, to deal with problem officers who may be using force improperly or excessively.
Although the current assignment policy offers many officers the opportunity to work close to home, it tends to work against ethnic and racial diversity among divisions. A pattern has developed of white officers patrolling white neighborhoods. The command officers interviewed were virtually unanimous in their opposition to this present assignment policy.
The commission believes that assignment procedures should be modified to ensure that police officers work in a wide range of functions and varied patrol locations during the course of their careers, and that they rotate through different divisions.
CHAPTER NINE: COMPLAINTS AND DISCIPLINE
No area of police operations received more adverse comment during the commission’s public hearings than the department’s handling of citizen complaints against LAPD officers, particularly allegations involving excessive use of force. Many community groups and members of the general public firmly believe that the department is incapable of disciplining its own officers.
We recognize that many specious complaints are made against police officers and that making a complaint can be a tactic designed to divert attention from the complainant’s wrongdoing. We nevertheless believe that, in cases involving allegations of excessive force, the system is unfairly skewed against the complainant. We recommend that the discipline system be restructured fully and that the operation of that system be open to meaningful public review by a civilian authority. To ensure that review, we recommend establishment of an office of the inspector general within the Police Commission, with responsibility to audit and oversee the disciplinary process, participate in the adjudication and punishment of the most serious cases, and report to the Police Commission and its newly created chief of staff.
Many witnesses at the commission’s public hearings testified that individuals who wish to file complaints face significant hurdles.
For example, Latino LAPD officers stated that even in many heavily Latino divisions, there is often no Spanish-speaking officer available to take complaints. Witnesses testified at the commission’s public hearings that intake officers actively discouraged them from filing complaints by tactics such as requiring the complainant to wait for long periods before being permitted to make a complaint, and even threatening defamation suits or referrals to the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
The commission staff reviewed over 700 personnel complaint investigation files relating to charges of excessive force or improper tactics.
That review validates many of the public’s charges of inadequate or improper complaint investigation.
Based on testimony before the commission and the staff’s review of investigative files, the commission has concluded that the department’s system of classification as it is now designed and operated is biased in favor of officers charged with excessive force or improper tactics.
The commission is further persuaded that, even when such complaints are sustained, the punishment is more lenient than it should be.
Cmdr. Michael Bostic, who was assigned by Chief Gates to investigate issues relating to training and use of force following the King incident, testified before the commission as follows: “They said if you lie, cheat and steal we’ll fire you, if you use drugs we’ll fire you. But if you use excessive force, we won’t.”
From the beginning of 1984 through the end of 1990, the department’s own records reflect at least 36 cases of sustained complaints involving allegations of excessive force against a handcuffed suspect.
The Code of Silence
Perhaps the greatest single barrier to the effective investigation and adjudication of complaints is the officers’ unwritten “code of silence.” While loyalty and support are salutary and even necessary qualities, they cannot justify the violation of an officer’s public responsibility to ensure compliance with the law, including LAPD regulations.
When asked whether there is a code of silence among officers, former Assistant Chief Jesse Brewer stated: “That may be the right way to term it in that there is a reluctance on the part of police officers to complain about misconduct on the part of their partners when they see it, when they observe it.”
One of the most distressing examples of the code of silence in operation occurred in the recent prosecution of three LAPD officers for criminal vandalism stemming from the extensive property damage in the 39th and Dalton drug raid.
CHAPTER TEN: THE POLICE COMMISSION AND CHIEF OF POLICE
Much as the nation’s military is under the control of civilians, as are police departments throughout the country, the Los Angeles City Charter contemplates that the quasi-military Police Department should be subject to citizen oversight and control. This oversight and control are to be exercised by the Police Commission, which the charter designates as the “head” of the department.
In practice, the Police Commission’s authority has proved illusory; a number of structural and operational constraints greatly weaken the Police Commission’s power to hold the chief accountable and therefore its ability to perform its management responsibilities, including effective oversight. As a result, real power and authority effectively reside in the police chief, which has caused various Police Commissions to have attempted to exercise direction and control through strategies ranging from outright confrontation to simple acquiescence or even appeasement.
The Police Commission adopted the current system for reviewing officer-involved shootings and certain other use of force cases after the controversy that followed the fatal shooting of Eulia Love by two police officers in 1979.
One problem with this system is that there are no well-defined criteria that trigger the Police Commission’s review. But it is unclear whether cases involving serious but nonfatal injuries inflicted by something other than a firearm--which were intended to be covered by the Eulia Love report recommendations--actually come before the Police Commission.
CHAPTER ELEVEN: IMPLEMENTATION
This report presents significant recommendations all across the spectrum of the operations and structure of the Los Angeles Police Department and related agencies. . . . These comprehensive and interdependent recommendations require immediate action.
The commission is unanimously committed to the attainment of the entire set of reforms. Full implementation, however, will require action by the mayor, the City Council, the Police Commission, the Police Department and ultimately the voters.
It has not been the finest hour for city government.
The following steps should be taken:
* The City Council should enact an ordinance paralleling the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which requires the President of the United States to make a report to Congress with regard to certain reports within one year of their submission. In this vein, the City Council should require a report with regard to the implementation of this report at six-month intervals from each of the following entities: the mayor, the Human Resources and Labor Relations Committee of the Los Angeles City Council, the Police Commission and the Police Department.
* Community organizations should accept responsibility for assessing the report and seeking to carry out those recommendations that come within their ambit of responsibility.
* A committee of distinguished citizens should be organized to advocate and monitor enactment of the recommended reforms by the responsible entities, to consider initiative measures if those bodies do not act and to support needed charter amendments.
* The commission should reconvene six months following its report to assess the implementation of its recommendations and to report to the public.
* From the outset, our commission has said that its primary focus would be on structural and operational issues, rather than on an assessment of individual performance. We adhere to that view. . . . However, it is appropriate to address transitional issues in more specific terms.
For reasons set forth in support of our recommendation that the chief of police be limited to two five-year terms, we believe that commencement of a transition in that office is now appropriate. We hope that Chief Gates will remain in office while his successor is being chosen, and we urge him to channel his energies during this period toward supporting and commencing the implementation of this report’s proposals.
* We also believe that the interests of harmony and healing would be served if the Police Commission is now reconstituted with members not identified with the recent controversy involving the chief of police. Without assessing individual performance, we believe that the attainment of the goals of the report would be facilitated by making a fresh start at the Police Commission. The mayor should nominate new members in light of our recommendations on the composition and expanded duties of that body.
To make genuine progress on issues relating to excessive force, racism and bias, leadership must avoid sending mixed signals. If the leaders are careless in their comments or equivocal in their commitments, some rank-and-file officers may find encouragement for their misconduct.