THE O.J. SIMPSON MURDER TRIAL : The Ugly, the Bad and the Good in LAPD

The message on my voice mail was from a Los Angeles police officer angry about a column I'd written on the Fuhrman tapes and the Los Angeles Police Department.

It was a troubling call because he raised a question that should concern members of the media as we cover the LAPD during the investigation of questions raised by the O.J. Simpson trial, particularly the Fuhrman tapes:

How can you be fair to the overwhelming majority of cops when your stories focus only on rooting out the bad apples?

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"You're just perpetuating a problem that will never stop," the caller said.

"If you continue to write negative articles, concentrating on the bad instead of looking for the good, things will never get better. People listen to what you write and if you mention there's only bad, bad, bad with this Police Department, they'll never see the good in it.

"There's so much more good, so many more good police officers than bad, and people do support us in these areas where you say they are fearful of us. Go out there and talk to them. . . .

"So stop, stop critiquing and criticizing and telling us how bad we are. Why don't you wake up? There are so many good officers, so many LAPD officers that are doing good things.

"It's people like you that are making it just that much more difficult for us to do our job because people think we're some kind of terrible, terrible people who are going to beat them up and so on and so forth.

"You know whose fault it is, it's yours, the media and so maybe one day you can concentrate on something good we do instead of overlooking it because there's a lot more of that than the bad that you concentrate on."

We'll no doubt be getting many more such calls here at the paper, along with letters and e-mail. So will other news organizations covering the unfolding story of the LAPD.

That's because the investigations prompted by the Fuhrman tapes will be big news after the Simpson trial has ended.

The department's Internal Affairs Division and the Board of Police Commissioners are already on the case. So is the U.S. Justice Department. The City Council will undoubtedly weigh in, and Mayor Richard Riordan can hardly avoid the issue. In addition, newspapers and broadcast stations will probably initiate their own investigations.

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My caller had a good point. The vast majority of L.A. officers do not engage in racist behavior.

In fact, the various ethnic groups among the LAPD's 8,000 officers probably get along with one another as well--and as poorly--as their counterparts in steel plants, discount retail stores or newspapers.

The steel plant comparison seemed apt several months ago when the Police Protective League, the L.A. officers' union, was marching to City Hall to protest the failure by the City Council and the mayor to give them a raise.

I went to the big parking lot, east of City Hall, where league members were assembling. I'd expected the stereotypical Police Protective League crowd--white guys with mustaches who treated reporters as if they were, to use police vernacular, liberal scumbags.

Instead, a large number were women police officers. A substantial number of marchers were Latinos and African Americans--men and women. Most were more than willing to talk to me, despite my press badge, note pad and pen.

They walked the few blocks to City Hall, races and sexes all mixed together, and then went inside for what turned out to be a noisy, multiracial disturbance.

Packed into a hallway outside the locked council chamber, they shouted to be admitted, their voices echoing through City Hall's corridors.

This was a trade union demonstration. Pay and working conditions were the driving force. Pocketbook issues had brought them all together.

Common sense and instinctive caution prevents misty-eyed sentimentality about the brief demonstration.

The league's record on race relations needs work, as Times reporter James Rainey noted in the paper Monday morning. Latino and African American police organizations remain unhappy over the league's financing of an appeal against the department's affirmative action policy and the defense of Sgt. Stacy Koon and Officer Laurence Powell, who are appealing their federal civil rights convictions for the beating of Rodney G. King.

Still, the racial situation inside the department is too complicated for simplistic analysis. That's even more true in the LAPD's relations with the outside community.

You can see this in community meetings with the officers in African American and Latino communities where even suspicious residents say they want more police officers on duty near their homes and shopping areas.

That is important to remember as we cover the long, painful process of eliminating racist and sexist behavior in the LAPD.

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