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LAPD Is Improved, NAACP Panel Told : Police conduct: But others at the civil rights organization’s hearing dispute the deputy chief and say the department is seriously flawed.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Los Angeles Police Department has taken major steps since the Rodney G. King beating toward ridding itself of practices and policies that may have fostered misconduct, a high-ranking police official told a panel of civil rights activists Tuesday.

Yet morale remains lowered and frustrations among some officers remain high in the wake of the scandal, said Deputy Chief Matthew Hunt.

His view, however, contrasted sharply with those of a procession of community activists and elected officials, many of whom portrayed the Police Department as a seriously flawed agency that remains resistant to meaningful change.

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Moreover, they said, abuse of authority and excessive use of force are still problems, not only in the Los Angeles Police Department, but in law enforcement agencies throughout Los Angeles County.

“The scales of justice point away from the community,” said state Sen. Diane Watson (D-Los Angeles). “We’re not only looking at the Rodney King incident, but all these incidents that continue to occur.”

Watson cited a spate of recent shootings by sheriff’s deputies of unarmed citizens and what she said was a continued need for an independent civilian review board to investigate complaints against Los Angeles police.

Other speakers, including City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, also called for civilian review boards. Former county Supervisor Yvonne Braithwaite Burke called for a similar investigative body to monitor the Sheriff’s Department.

Their remarks and the comments by Hunt were made on the first day of a two-day hearing on police conduct being sponsored by the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People.

The hearings at Patriotic Hall near downtown Los Angeles are among a series of similar sessions the civil rights organization has held or scheduled in seven cities around the country as part of a nationwide investigation into what a spokesman called “a wall of mistrust between African-American communities and law enforcement personnel.”

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Tuesday’s session was reminiscent of the hearings of the Christopher Commission, which was formed after the beating of King.

The Christopher Commission found widespread racism, sexism and other intolerance within the department that it said was ignored by administrators. It also determined there were a significant number of officers who repeatedly used excessive force. The panel made sweeping recommendations, including the eventual replacement of Gates.

Hunt said the department has implemented a series of measures to weed out renegade officers, improve training and foster better relations between the department and the community.

As a result, he said, some officers have retired or have been fired, and racist and other inappropriate slurs have virtually disappeared from computer messages between officers in patrol cars.

“We have gone through a tremendous re-evaluation of our police operations, officers, equipment, training, every aspect of the police operation since the Rodney King incident,” Hunt told the five-member NAACP panel.

But Hunt said that department morale is now only “good as opposed to very good.”

The NAACP plans to issue a national report next year in conjunction with the Harvard University Law School Criminal Justice Institute.

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