Christopher Commission Findings : EXCESSIVE FORCE
Background: The Los Angeles Police Department has a strict “use of force” policy, instructing officers to resort to it only when facing a “credible threat”--and then only to use the “minimum amount” necessary. But the King beating is only the latest in a series of prominent incidents questioning police compliance.
Commission comment: “There is a significant number of officers in the LAPD who repetitively use excessive force against the public and persistently ignore the written guidelines of the department.” A computerized study of complaints over four years found 44 officers were the subject of six or more allegations of excessive force or improper tactics. Yet the commission found, “as a general matter, the performance evaluation reports on these officers were very positive.”
Recommendations: “The leadership of the LAPD must give priority to curbing excessive use of force . . . (using) the powerful incentives and disincentives that influence the behavior of police officers.” Make use of force a significant factor in evaluations and promotions. Provide counseling for officers who receive complaints. And “if counseling and training do not work, discipline must.” Consider placing automatic videotaping equipment in patrol cars to record interactions with the public.
THE COMPLAINT PROCESS
Background: Citizens often say they are discouraged from filing misconduct complaints by police officials and that, if they do file complaints, they are too readily dismissed. A recent computer analysis by the Times of 4,400 misconduct complaints against Los Angeles officers found that only 7% of them were upheld.
Commission Comment: “No area of police operations received more adverse comment during the commission’s public hearings than the department’s handling of citizen complaints.” The panel noted that Rodney King’s brother went to the police station to file a complaint but was, in effect, turned away by a sergeant there. While recognizing that “many specious complaints are made against police,” the panel concluded that “the system is unfairly skewed against the complainant.”
Recommendations: “The discipline system be restructured fully and that the operation of that system be open to meaningful public review by a civilian authority.” The panel calls for establishment of an Office of the Inspector General within the civilian Police Commission. And it says personnel should be added to the police Internal Affairs Division.
Background: “Community policing” has become the trend across the country. The LAPD under Chief Gates was a trend-setter with its DARE anti-drug program, which sends officers into schools. But Gates has maintained that his department is too short-staffed to reassign significant numbers of officers from cars to foot patrols or other assignments that put them in closer contact with neighborhoods.
Commission Comment: “The LAPD has an organizational culture that emphasizes crime control over crime prevention and that isolates the police from the communities and the people they serve. . . . This style of policing produces results, but it does so at the risk of creating a siege mentality. . . . It is apparent that too many LAPD patrol officers view citizens with resentment and hostility; too many treat the public with rudeness and disrespect.”
Recommendations: Implement community-based policing. Officers should “spend less time in their cars communicating with other officers and more time on the street communicating with citizens.” Also necessary: a more diverse police force, and language and cultural sensitivity training. It calls for nothing less than “a fundamental change in values.”
Background: The King beating revived longstanding allegations that police officers are bigoted against blacks, Latinos, other minority citizens and women. A survey of 650 LAPD officers found that approximately one-quarter agreed that racial bias “contributes to a negative interaction between police and community.”
Commission Comment: A review of computer messages found many racist messages such as, “Almost got me a Mexican last night but he dropped the dam gun to quick.” The officers sending the messages “apparently had little concern that they would be disciplined.” Witnesses complained of police detaining black and Latino men who fit certain general descriptions and employing unnecessarily humiliating tactics in minority neighborhoods, such as requiring suspects to assume a “prone-out position” following traffic stops. Within the police force, “minority officers are still too frequently subjected to racist slurs.”
Recommendations: Monitoring of computer messages has already begun. “Minority and female officers must be given full and equal opportunity to assume leadership positions.” The LAPD should establish cultural awareness programs. A new position of Community Relations Officer
should be created at the commander level.
THE CHIEF OF POLICE
Background: Daryl F. Gates has been the self-assured commander-in-chief of the Los Angeles Police Department for 13 years, gaining notoriety for introducing high-tech weaponry and militaristic tactics . He is the latest in a series of outspoken Los Angeles chiefs, whose power is enhanced by Civil Service provisions giving them a “substantial property right” to their jobs.
Commission Comment: Gates is credited with leading a department that “has done an outstanding job, by all accounts, of creating a culture in which officers generally do not steal, take bribes or use drugs.” But the panel concludes: “Los Angeles should have a Police Department whose chief is accountable to civilian officials.”
Recommendations: The chief of police should be be limited to two five-year terms. And, with Gates having served longer than that already, “a transition in that office is now appropriate.” Whereas the Police Commission currently appoints a new chief, that power should shift to the mayor “with the advice and consent of a majority of the City Council.”
Background: The Rodney King incident spotlighted the limited power of this part-time citizen commission, whose five members are appointed by the mayor. Its attempt to place Chief Gates on leave, pending an investigation, was quickly turned back as the chief went to court to block it and City Council members announced their opposition to the move.
Commission Comment: “Although the City Charter assigns the Police Commission ultimate control over (Police) Department policies, its authority . . .is illusory.” The police chief’s Civil Service status largely protects him from disciplinary action, and the commission has taken a passive role, “essentially acting as a ‘booster’ . . . for the department.” The commission is supposed to oversee the police disciplinary system, but does not get adequate information from the department.
Recommendations: The Police Commission should be reconstituted with members not identified with the Gates controversy. The commission staff should be increased by at least 15 civilian employees, including auditors, computer systems analysts and investigators. The commission then should take a more active role in processing complaints of police abuses and have “the ability to hold the police chief accountable for following and implementing its policy directives.” Although the mayor would assume responsibility for appointing a new chief, the commission would screen candidates first.
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