THE TIMES POLL : Panel’s Reforms for Police Strongly Backed
Los Angeles residents overwhelmingly support the major conclusions and recommendations of the sweeping Christopher Commission report on bias and brutality in the city’s Police Department, and they believe it will take a new police chief to accomplish the goals set by the commission, a Los Angeles Times Poll has found.
Fully 70% of city residents said a new chief would be needed to reform the department, a judgment embraced across racial lines. More than three-quarters of residents also believe embattled Chief Daryl F. Gates should step down, but they are divided as to whether he should go now or after a period of transition.
For the record:
12:00 AM, Jul. 17, 1991 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday July 17, 1991 Home Edition Part A Page 3 Column 2 Metro Desk 2 inches; 48 words Type of Material: Correction
Poll on Gates--A story on Monday incorrectly reported that Police Chief Daryl F. Gates received a 33% job approval rating in a Los Angeles Times Poll. That figure applies only to Gates’ approval rating among Anglo residents. Gates’ job approval rating among all city residents is 28%, a figure correctly reported at another point in the story.
The poll found that 37% said Gates should resign immediately and 41% said he should step down as soon as a new chief can be found. Only 17% believe Gates should stay on as chief.
The Times Poll displayed across-the-board support for the principal reform proposals suggested by the Christopher Commission, including limiting future police chiefs to two five-year terms. Similarly, residents favored the proposed scheduling of a special election to instill those changes in the City Charter.
Conflicting undercurrents of optimism and skepticism are rippling through the city, the poll found. Almost half of the city residents questioned said they believe the LAPD will improve within six months, and eight in 10 residents felt the commission’s report would be at least somewhat effective in prompting such improvement.
But, asked if the city was beginning to heal from the wounds suffered after the videotaped beating of motorist Rodney G. King, only 25% said yes. Nearly as many residents said the conflicts are worsening.
When residents were asked how they would improve the Police Department, their responses echoed the pain and polarization felt in the city for the last four months.
“Treat blacks better. No brutality,” said one resident.
“They don’t understand citizens. They don’t have time to listen,” said another.
“The city should get off the back of Gates. He’s doing good,” said a third.
Overall, 23% said the Police Department should “get closer to the community,” 13% asked for more police officers and 11% said that the best way to improve the department is for Gates to leave.
The survey, supervised by Times Poll Director John Brennan, included interviews with 1,484 residents in the city of Los Angeles over a four-day period ending Sunday. The margin of error for the whole sample is plus or minus 3 points, although the margins for subgroups of residents within the poll is larger.
The latest in a series of polls taken by The Times since the King beating March 3 set off a storm of international criticism of the department, the survey showed several trends continuing. The popularity of Gates and Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley has inched downward, though Bradley’s approval rating remains much higher than the chief’s.
But dissatisfaction with the Police Department as a whole has leveled off, with 42% of respondents saying they approve of the way the LAPD handles its job, and 52% disapproving. Residents did, however, praise the Police Department for several functions, including the control of crime.
The survey indicated that most residents see racism in the LAPD as a reflection of a larger, societal problem. Almost three of every five respondents said that police officers are no more racist than the public at large.
More than half of the respondents felt that excessive force and racism stemmed primarily from the beliefs of individual officers, while only 34% laid the blame largely on department policies.
On that and the similar issue of whether a small or large group of officers was responsible for the LAPD’s problems, there were clear differences in the Anglo, black and Latino communities. Blacks, far more than other groups, said the department’s problems were more widespread than described even in the hard-hitting Christopher Commission report. Anglos, in contrast, believe that a small group of officers is to blame for the department’s problem.
“There is a sense that Gates’ departure will not solve all the department’s problems,” said poll director Brennan. “There remains a feeling out there that . . . something is going on in the rank and file.”
The poll was the first conducted since the commission headed by former deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher released its 228-page report last week, after 100 days of review. The commission found that the department tacitly condoned racism and sexism and has been lax in disciplining rogue officers. The commission also concluded that racism and sexism were evident in computerized messages sent between officers.
The commission report, according to the poll, achieved a consensus in a city that has been wracked by divisions since the King incident.
Nearly three in five residents were familiar with the report, and those who were favored the commission’s work by a 5-1 margin.
Asked whether the commission represented “the views and concerns of people like you,” 64% of all respondents said the commission had done good or excellent work.
Even blacks, who were most critical of police activities, said by a 70% to 13% margin that the commission had addressed their concerns.
Most of the commission’s conclusions were endorsed by the public:
* 73% of all residents--including 87% of blacks--agreed that a significant number of LAPD officers had used excessive force, in violation of department guidelines.
* 87% agreed that some police officers had racist and sexist attitudes and 61% said they strongly agreed with that conclusion.
Asked separately whether computer messages released by the commission were racist and sexist--or merely humorous--64% of those who were familiar with them said the messages were racist or sexist. Further, 46% said they were greatly offended by the messages, and another 24% were somewhat offended. Twenty-nine percent said they were not offended.
* Other elements of the report received similar endorsements. Sixty-five percent said the LAPD is isolated from the communities it serves. Seventy-nine percent agreed that the system for complaining about the police was flawed.
* Residents had a mixed response when asked whether they agreed with the commission’s most positive conclusion--that the department was generally efficient, sophisticated and corruption-free. To that, 54% agreed, and 38% disagreed.
The recommendations of the commission also won broad-based approval:
* Four out of every five residents polled by The Times favored a maximum term for the police chief of 10 years, or two successive five-year terms. Sixty-three percent said they strongly approved of a term limit.
* By a smaller percentage, residents endorsed the recommendation that the police chief be appointed by the mayor, subject to approval by the City Council. That won the favor of 67%, while 27% opposed the idea. In the black community, the idea was more popular--favored by 78%.
* Overall, 77% of residents sanctioned an overhaul and strengthening of the Police Commission, whose role in the police controversy to date has been limited by its charter powers. And 51% strongly favored an overhaul.
* In a judgment that could prove touchy for police officers, 89% of residents said officers should be subject to periodic psychological testing, and 70% said they strongly backed such tests.
* Eight-nine percent also agreed that officers should be made more culturally aware, a recommendation that found almost equal favor among blacks, Anglos and Latinos.
* Moves meant to pull together the police and the communities they serve found widespread support. Of the residents, 84% said the department should emphasize foot patrols and citizen involvement over car patrols and crime control. And 94% said the police chief should take greater pains to ensure that women and minority officers receive job promotions.
Of those familiar with the report, 54% said it was a “condemnation” of Gates’ 13-year tenure as chief, 24% said it was not and 22% said they were unsure.
Gates was hardly popular. Besides the 37% who said he should resign from office now, and 41% who said he should do so after a transition, 40% felt that Gates’ departure would have a “positive” impact on the LAPD and 14% said his departure would be negative. The responses were similar for all racial groups, although more blacks than Anglos expected a positive impact from Gates’s departure.
Just 28% approved of the way Gates is handling his job.
In contrast, Bradley’s approval rating was 48%, with 41% of those polled saying they disapproved of the way he is doing his job.
“There is a consensus that the chief step down, but no consensus that he should step down immediately,” said Brennan.
When they were reminded that Gates has served 13 years as chief--three years longer than the maximum tenure recommended by the Christopher Commission, 77% said Gates should leave after a transition described in the commission report. Almost three of every five people said they feel strongly that he should follow the commission’s recommendation to begin planning his departure.
On the question of whether a new chief was needed to reform the department, 63% of Anglos, 85% of blacks and 73% of Latinos agreed.
Residents clearly favored a special election this year on the commission’s recommendation for changing the way the police chief is chosen. Sixty-one percent said they strongly approved holding a special election, and another 22% said they also approved, if less strongly.
But Brennan warned that the finding is no assurance that the recommendations would win at the ballot box. “No one can say how public opinion might change as the report is put into the context of the city’s politics,” Brennan said.
While Gates’ approval ratings were hovering at 33%, and only 17% were insisting that he stay in his job, the remainder of the LAPD was faring better in the public eye.
Overall, the department was given an approval rating of 42%, virtually unchanged since April but higher than the 34% in March. While the disapproval rate was stuck at 52%, there were still some indications of public confidence in the police force.
Asked their impression of the LAPD’s ability to hold down crime in their neighborhoods, respondents by a 2-1 margin endorsed the force’s activities. Among blacks, the department’s crime-fighting skills were approved by a 51-45 margin.
By a slighter margin, the department’s efforts to reach out into the community were also sanctioned, by a 50%-40% margin. There were differences among racial groups: Anglos said the Police Department outreach efforts were effective, by a 53% to 34% margin. Among blacks, the efforts were judged ineffective, by a 42%-53% margin. And Latinos were evenly divided, with 48% saying the outreach attempts were favorable and the same percentage disagreeing.
How the Poll Was Conducted
The Times Poll interviewed 1,484 adult Los Angeles residents, by telephone, on July 11-14. Telephone numbers were generated from a list of all phone exchanges in the city. Random-digit dialing techniques were used to ensure that households with unlisted and listed telephone numbers had an opportunity to be contacted. Interviews were conducted in either English or Spanish. Oversampling techniques were used to produce larger-sized subsamples of blacks and Latinos for analysis, which were weighted to their proper proportions in the citywide sample. Results were adjusted slightly to conform with census figures for sex, race, age and household size. The margin of sampling error for percentages based on the total sample is plus or minus 3 percentage points. For certain subgroups the error margin is somewhat higher.
Results on several questions in the poll are based on the sample of 1,216 respondents interviewed July 12-14. The margin of sampling error for percentages based on this sample is also plus or minus 3 points.
The Times Poll: The Christopher Commission, Daryl Gates and the LAPD
The Times Poll interviewed 1,484 adult residents in the City of Los Angeles, from July 11 to 14, 1991.
OPINIONS ABOUT CHRISTOPHER COMMISSION RECOMMENDATIONS:
Ensure minority/female officers equal job opportunities and promotions.
Approve strongly: 78%
Approve somewhat: 16%
Disapprove somewhat: 2%
Disapprove strongly: 2%
Dont know: 2%
Require periodic psychological testing for officers.
Approve strongly: 70%
Approve somewhat: 19%
Disapprove somewhat: 5%
Disapprove strongly: 4%
Dont know: 2%
Have Chief Gates step down after a transition period in which a new chief is found.
Approve strongly: 58%
Approve somewhat: 19%
Disapprove somewhat: 7%
Disapprove strongly: 12%
Dont know: 4%
Emphasize foot patrols and citizen involvement more, car patrols and simple crime control less.
Approve strongly: 63%
Approve somewhat: 21%
Disapprove somewhat: 7%
Disapprove strongly: 4%
Dont know: 5%
Limit chief to 5-year term, renewable for only one additional 5-year term.
Approve strongly: 63%
Approve somewhat: 18%
Disapprove somewhat: 5%
Disapprove strongly: 10%
Dont know: 4%
Let mayor appoint chief from Police Commission’s candidate list, upon approval of City Council
Approve strongly: 41%
Approve somewhat: 26%
Disapprove somewhat: 9%
Disapprove strongly: 18%
Dont know: 6%
VIEWS ON SPECIAL ELECTION
* Do you approve or disapprove of holding a special election in November or December to vote on commission recommendations changing the way the city’s Police Chief is chosen?
Approve strongly: 61%
Approve somewhat: 22%
Disapprove somewhat: 4%
Disapprove strongly: 7%
Dont know: 6%
VIEWS ON POLICE CHIEF GATES:
* Do you think Police Chief Daryl Gates should resign immediately, or should Gates step down after a transition period that would bring in a new Chief, or should Gates stay on as Police Chief?
Familiar Total Anglos Blacks Latinos with report* Resign immediately 37% 32% 61% 36% 40% Step down 41% 44% 29% 42% 41% Stay 17% 19% 6% 16% 16% Don’t know 5% 5% 4% 6% 3%
* Do you think the Christopher Commission’s report amounts to a condemnation of Police Chief Gates’ leadership, or does it not amount to a condemnation of Gates’ leadership or haven’t you heard enough to say?
Familiar Total Anglos Blacks Latinos with report* Haven’t heard enough 36% 21% 40% 53% 17% Condemnation 41% 50% 41% 31% 54% Not a condemnation 17% 22% 14% 12% 24% Don’t know 6% 7% 5% 4% 5%
* Do you think the Christopher Commission recommendations can be implemented in a satisfactory way by Chief Gates or does Los Angeles need a new Police Chief to implement the Commission’s recommendations?
Familiar Total Anglos Blacks Latinos with report* Police Chief Gates 22% 28% 7% 22% 22% New Police Chief 70% 63% 85% 73% 73% Don’t know 8% 9% 8% 5% 5%
VIEWS ON POLICE
* When it comes to holding down crime, what is your impression of the LAPD’s activities in your neighborhood?
Familiar Total Anglos Blacks Latinos with report* Very favorable 20% 26% 16% 16% 20% Somewhat favorable 45% 49% 35% 42% 48% Somewhat unfavorable 17% 14% 22% 20% 16% Very unfavorable 13% 6% 23% 17% 11% Don’t know 5% 5% 4% 5% 5%
* When it comes to reaching out to the community, what is your impression of the LAPD’s activities in your neighborhood?
Familiar Total Anglos Blacks Latinos with report* Very favorable 11% 15% 8% 8% 11% Somewhat favorable 40% 38% 34% 40% 37% Somewhat unfavorable 23% 22% 21% 28% 24% Very unfavorable 17% 12% 32% 18% 17% Don’t know 9% 13% 5% 6% 11%
* Percentage of respondents who said they were familiar with the Christopher Commission report.