CRIME WATCH : What's to Celebrate?

The police beating of Rodney G. King remains a horrific moment in Los Angeles history. The acquittals of four police officers in the first trial, the 1992 riots, the subsequent federal convictions of two of the original defendants and the plodding reform of the Police Department are legacies of that sad occurrence. There is little to celebrate.

So why are L.A. County Supervisor Michael Antonovich, Orange County's Rep. Robert K. Dornan and state Sen. Richard Mountjoy (R-Arcadia) hosting a fund-raiser and welcome-home party for Laurence M. Powell, one of the former policemen convicted of violating King's civil rights? Antonovich, the event's "homecoming chairman," pitches for contributions on stationery that features the county seal. This solicitation can be misconstrued as meaning the county officially sanctions the event, despite the disclaimer that the letter was not printed at government expense.

The party will be in a privately rented banquet hall at the Police Academy, a fact that could lead to another false and divisive impression: that the beleaguered LAPD condones beating up suspects. Such a notion could do nothing but further erode public confidence in the department.

Powell is to be released from a halfway house Dec. 13. Of course he should be allowed to get on with his life, and paying off his legal expenses, one of the purposes of the homecoming bash, is appropriate. However, no convicted felon--especially one found guilty of abusing his authority as a police officer--deserves a hero's welcome hosted by elected officials.

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