THE SIMPSON LEGACY / LOS ANGELES...

TIMES POLITICAL WRITER

As Los Angeles County residents grapple with the lingering reverberations of the O.J. Simpson trial, a new Times poll has found that one of the victims of the long-running saga has been the criminal justice system itself.

In the county, and particularly among whites who comprise the largest bloc of county residents, confidence in the justice system has slumped as a result of the trial. Ironically, given the criticism focused on law enforcement officers throughout the trial, people's views of the police have not dropped as dramatically as their perceptions of the courts.

But, in part, that is because the public perception of the courts had already been tarnished by the host of controversial trials that have occurred here in recent years.

"This is striking a bruise for a lot of people," said Times Poll Director John Brennan. "There were already a lot of doubts about Los Angeles' court system out there."

The law enforcement figures underscored that for many the Simpson case may not be seen as an indictment of all institutions. Even among blacks, most of whom believe that police planted evidence against Simpson, 61% countywide approve of the way their local law enforcement agencies handle their jobs.

In the city of Los Angeles, support for the LAPD declined, but only about 10 percentage points overall.

"There's been less change in the overall view of the system than you might expect as a result of this trial," Brennan said.

The chasm between blacks and whites in the county was painfully clear, as it had been for the duration of Simpson's 16-month imprisonment and trial. And now there is evidence of increasing polarization. Whites are far more negative about key elements of the criminal justice system than before, and blacks are in some cases more positive--but not always.

There was unity of thought on one topic, however: the vast impact that wealth is believed to have on priming the judicial pump. Whites and blacks alike believed that O.J. Simpson's wealth was a larger factor in the outcome of his case than was his race.

Overall, 87% said wealth was the most important, or an important, element in the trial. Asked separately, 68% described race in the same way.

The belief that Simpson's wealth was the major factor explains why, even though they largely agree with the verdicts, blacks remain unenthusiastic about the criminal justice system in general.

"It's clear . . . that blacks say there is a lot of entrenched racism and one trial will not overcome that," Brennan said. "Like everyone else, they realize that this was a very special trial, and he had a defense team not likely to be replicated in most Los Angeles courtrooms."

The polarization between blacks and whites--with Latinos in the middle--was unmistakable throughout the poll of 760 Los Angeles County residents, interviewed Oct. 3-5. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is four percentage points in either direction.

Asked whether justice was served in the Simpson case, 51% of whites said that was "very doubtful," while 50% of blacks described themselves as "very confident" that justice had been served.

Overall, 69% of blacks described themselves as very confident or somewhat confident that justice was served, a posture adopted by 40% of Latinos and a slim 22% of whites.

Separately, 60% of whites said the conduct of the Simpson case has decreased their confidence in the criminal justice system, a view shared by half as many blacks. Latinos were precisely in the middle, with 45% saying their positive views had ebbed as a result of the high-profile trial.

Overall, including Asian Americans and other groups that are too small to measure independently, 51% of county residents said their faith in the system had declined; only 9% said it had increased.

While that measured the Simpson-inspired dip, another question illustrated the low levels of support for the criminal justice system overall. Asked whether they had a "great deal, quite a lot, only some or very little" confidence in the system, all races focused most of their answers in the negative categories.

Thirty-four percent of whites, 39% of blacks and 41% of Latinos said they had "very little" confidence, and the responses of men and women in that category were an equally dire 36%. In total, 26% said they had a great deal or a lot of confidence, and 70% said they had some or very little confidence.

Asked if the court system was sound, respondents were split--46% said it was and 47% said it was not. Among whites, Latinos and the population overall, that number was about the same as the responses given in a Times poll taken in September, 1994.

This time, blacks were more likely to declare the system sound--up to 38% from 27% in the September, 1994, poll. But still more than half of blacks described it as lacking.

The qualms held by county residents about the criminal justice system--and the disparate views held by racial groups--were evident when respondents were asked whether the system was biased against certain people--and if so, whom.

Slightly more than half of whites, 51%, said the system essentially treats everyone the same--a view shared by only 13% of blacks and 28% of Latinos. As to which parties were unfairly treated, 20% of whites picked blacks and 19% of whites said Latinos. Among blacks, 67% chose their own race and 60% said Latinos. (More than one answer was allowed). Forty-four percent of Latinos said blacks were unfairly targeted, and 47% said Latinos were.

That view colored perceptions of whether it was too easy for prosecutors to convict suspects of crimes they have committed, or if it was too difficult.

Blacks, probably because they believed that they and others are unfairly targeted, believed by a margin of 42% to 21% that it was too easy to gain convictions. Another 25% said the balance was about right.

Contrarily, only 9% of whites said it was too easy to obtain convictions, while 46% said it was too difficult and 31% said the balance was right. Latinos, again, were in the middle with 25% considering it too easy, 26% saying the balance was right and 39% believing that it is too difficult.

As confidence in the system slumped as a result of the Simpson case, so too has confidence in the men and women who are the public's proxies in trying criminal cases--the jurors.

In September, 1994, 39% of county residents said they had a lot of confidence in the jury system, and only 25% said they had very little confidence in jurors. Now, only 25% say they have a lot of confidence in the jury system and 32% say they have very little--almost an exact reversal.

Again that view was strongest among whites, 46% of the county's voting age population. Thirty-seven percent of whites said they had "very little" confidence in jurors, up from 22% 13 months ago and almost double the 20% of blacks who now feel the same way. Among blacks, that represented a decline from the 30% figure of September, 1994.

Given the declines when county residents were asked about the court system, it was striking that views about law enforcement officials were as positive as they were.

The approval ratings given to local law enforcement were virtually the same as in June, 1994. Overall, 71% said they approve of the way that police officers and sheriff's deputies go about their work--a majority that was seen across racial lines. Included were 85% of whites, 61% of blacks and 58% of Latinos.

When it came to the LAPD, however, there was a small decline in popularity. Approval among city residents was at 56%, down from the 66% seen in June and the 71% recorded in May. Although it has dropped, the LAPD approval rating still outdistances the low of 34% seen in the aftermath of the 1991 beating of Rodney G. King.

As there were significant racial differences when it came to views about law enforcement, there were different levels of support for the LAPD.

In contrast to their support of local law enforcement officials in the county, blacks countywide strongly opposed the LAPD, with 64% of blacks disapproving of the city police force. Sixty percent of whites approved of the institution, however, as did 54% of Latinos.

The general approval of law enforcement institutions does mask serious concerns about the credibility and fairness of police officers, particularly in minority communities.

While county residents overall were split on whether the LAPD planted evidence in the Simpson case, and whites flatly believed that they did not, 75% of blacks believed that they did. Fifty-six percent of Latinos agreed that evidence had been planted, a hallmark of the defense case.

Although most people believe that former LAPD Detective Mark Fuhrman should face charges stemming from his racial epithets and his comments about beating suspects and fabricating evidence, there was more ambivalence about his role in the trial.

Two-thirds of county residents said they had followed the controversy about Fuhrman's statements captured on audiotapes by an aspiring screenwriter. By a 2-1 margin, they believed that Judge Lance A. Ito was correct to refuse to strike Fuhrman's testimony from the record after it became evident that he had perjured himself.

By a slightly larger 65%-30% margin, residents also believed that Ito was right to withhold most of the inflammatory Fuhrman tapes from the jury.

Assistant Poll Director Susan Pinkus contributed to this story.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

What We Think

Confidence in law enforcement remains high in L.A. County, but few people have much faith in the county's criminal justice system. In a poll taken after the Simpson verdicts, most blacks said they are confident that justice was served, but most whites are not.

*

Do you approve or disapprove of the way law enforcement does its job?

All

Approve: 71%

Disapprove: 21%

Don't know: 8%

*

*--*

Black White All 6/94 Approve 61% 85% 73% Disapprove 35% 11% 23% Don't know 4% 4% 4%

*--*

*

If you live in the city of L.A., do you approve or disapprove of the way the LAPD does its job?

All

Approve: 56%

Disapprove: 38%

Don't know: 6%

*

*--*

Black White 6/94 6/95 Approve 42% 58% 67% 66% Disapprove 52% 35% 27% 26% Don't know 6% 7% 6% 8%

*--*

*

Do you have confidence in the criminal justice system?

All

A lot: 26%

Some: 70%

Don't know: 4%

*

*--*

Black White A lot 21% 28% Some 73% 69% Don't know 6% 3%

*--*

*

Do you think the court system in L.A. County is basically sound?

All

Sound: 46%

Not sound: 47%

Don't know: 7%

*

*--*

Black White All 9/94 Sound 38% 46% 46% Not sound 54% 47% 43% Don't know 8% 7% 11%

*--*

*

Do you think the court system of L.A. County makes it too easy or too difficult for prosecutors to convict?

All

Too easy: 20%

Right balance: 28%

Too difficult: 40%

Don't know: 12%

*

*--*

Black White Too easy 42% 9% Right balance 25% 31% Too difficult 21% 46% Don't know 12% 14%

*--*

*

Is the court system of L.A. County biased against certain people?

No group: 38%

Blacks: 35%

Latinos: 34%

Poor people: 11%

All minorities: 10%

Note: Numbers do not add up to 100% because respondents were permitted up to 3 responses, and not all answer categories are shown.

*

Do you have confidence in the way the jury system works in criminal trials in L.A. County?

All

A lot: 25%

Some: 69%

Don't know: 6%

*

*--*

Black White All 9/94 A lot 37% 25% 39% Some 57% 73% 55% Don't know 6% 2% 6%

*--*

Source: Los Angeles Times Poll

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

County Opinions

Are juries in L.A. County criminal trials too tough, too lenient or balanced when judging defendants?

*

All

Too lenient: 32%

Too tough: 3%

Balanced: 48%

Don't know: 17%

*

*--*

Black White Too lenient 7% 40% Too tough 9% 2% Balanced 69% 41% Don't know 15% 17%

*--*

*

Do you approve of the way the Simpson trial was conducted?

All

Approve: 40%

Disapprove: 55%

Don't know: 5%

*

*--*

Black White Approve 43% 35% Disapprove 51% 62% Don't know 6% 3%

*--*

*

Has your confidence in the criminal justice system increased or decreased after the Simpson trial?

All

Increased: 9%

Decreased: 51%

Little effect: 35%

Don't know: 5%

*

*--*

Black White National Increased 14% 6% 8% Decreased 30% 60% 57% Little effect 49% 32% 32% Don't know 7% 2% 3%

*--*

*

How confident are you that justice was served in the Simpson case?

All

Confident: 34%

Doubtful: 62%

Don't know: 4%

*

*--*

Black White Confident 69% 22% Doubtful 24% 76% Don't know 7% 2%

*--*

*

Do you think the jury was biased in favor of Simpson, against Simpson or unbiased?

All

Biased in favor: 51%

Biased against: 2%

Unbiased: 39%

Don't know: 8%

*

*--*

Black White Biased in favor 19% 63% Biased against 2% 3% Unbiased 71% 28% Don't know 8% 6%

*--*

*

Do you think the Simpson jurors were able to get information about the case even though they were sequestered?

All

Able to get news: 62%

Not able to get news: 26%

Don't know: 12%

*

*--*

Black White Able to get news 54% 65% Not able to get news 29% 21% Don't know 17% 14%

*--*

*

Do you believe that some members of the LAPD planted evidence against Simpson or do you think there was no planting of evidence?

All

Planted evidence: 40%

Did not plant evidence: 43%

Don't know: 17%

*

*--*

Black White Planted evidence 75% 21% Did not plant evidence 7% 62% Don't know 18% 17%

*--*

HOW THE POLL WAS CONDUCTED

The Times Poll contacted 760 adults living in Los Angeles County by telephone Oct. 3 through Oct. 5.

Telephone numbers were chosen from a list of all exchanges in the county. Random-digit dialing techniques were used so that listed and non-listed numbers could be contacted. Interviews were conducted in both English and Spanish. The sample was weighted slightly to conform with census figures for sex, race, age and education. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 4 percentage points; for certain subgroups the error margin may be somewhat higher. Poll results can also be affected by other factors such as question wording and the order in which questions are presented.

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