Poll Analysis: Rampart Scandal Affecting the State of the City

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Yet another scandal seen as symptomatic of the LAPD.

Times Poll Asst. Director
     Despite nationally falling crime rates, crime continues to come up as a top concern for both Los Angeles City and County residents. With a strong economy and reports of strong personal finances, the latest scandal involving police misconduct, this time out of the Rampart division of the Los Angeles Police Department, is inevitably contributing to a climate of mistrust and anxiety in Los Angeles. In fact, three quarters of Los Angelenos have been following this scandal closely, and a majority believe it is severely damaging the reputation of the LAPD.
     In more optimistic news, while a disturbing 18% of L.A. city residents feel somewhat or very unsafe in their own neighborhoods--and there is great variation in this figure by region and race--this number is in sharp decline from just three years ago, when a third of all L.A. city residents said they felt unsafe in their communities, and is a large plunge from the 47% of city respondents claiming to feel unsafe in 1992 and 1994.
     More troubling, however, is the wide variation in safety perceptions. Though 18% of respondents city-wide feel unsafe in their own communities:
     *34% of Latinos feel unsafe (16% of African Americans, 11% of whites)
     *33% of those living in South L.A. feel unsafe (compared to 20% in the San Fernando Valley, 16% in Central L.A. and 7% on the Westside)

     Police perceptions and the racial divide
     The LAPD, once again roiled in scandal, receives unfavorable job ratings from Los Angeles residents:
     *51% disapprove of the job the LAPD has been doing
     *36% approve
     African Americans are far less likely than whites or Latinos to approve of the job the LAPD is doing:
     *18% of African Americans approve of the LAPD (compared to 44% of whites and 36% of Latinos)
     *55% of African Americans disapprove of the LAPD (46% of whites disapprove, 48% of Latinos)
     However, city residents feel quite differently about their local police officers, with more than seven in ten (71%) saying they have favorable impressions of their local police officers. Though this perception differs by race, city residents of all races have favorable impressions of their own local police officers:
     *76% of whites have favorable views of their local police officers
     *66% of Latinos
     *51% of African-Americans
     Correspondingly, a majority of respondents believe that "most" police officers are honest and hardworking, though this sentiment continues to vary dramatically by race, with nearly seven in ten whites holding this belief, but just 38% of African Americans saying so. Indeed, African Americans are four times as likely as whites to say that "not too many" officers are honest and hardworking (13% to 3% among whites). Latinos fall somewhere in between these two groups, with 45% saying that most police officers are honest and hardworking, and nearly one in ten (9%) saying most are not.

     About three-quarters of respondents living in the city of L.A. have been following the Rampart investigation, and an equal number of respondents report being very or somewhat upset about this latest scandal. Additionally, more than nine out of ten (92%) of respondents living in the city of Los Angeles say that Rampart has damaged the reputation of the Los Angeles Police Department. More than half this group--52%--say the LAPD‚s reputation has been severely damaged.
     More striking than the aftershocks of Rampart, however, is that while both African American and white residents are equally likely to be upset by the Rampart allegations, other results in the poll paint a picture of Los Angeles city residents living in two very different worlds, one black and one white, each with separate and distinct perceptions of and experiences with the Los Angeles police department.
     For example, African Americans, who have long been proclaiming discriminatory practices by the LAPD, are nearly twice as likely as whites (79% to 42% of white respondents) to say that the allegations of police misconduct in Rampart are symptomatic of a larger problem rather than an isolated incident. Whites, on the other hand, by nearly four to one over African Americans (55% to 14%), say that the allegations are an isolated incident and are not representative of the police department as a whole.
     Similarly, while more than eight in ten African American respondents (81%) say racist sentiment or behavior is common among L.A. police officers, just 58% of whites think so. While 83% of African Americans believe that incidents of police brutality are common (and a striking 47% say very common), just 43% of white respondents agree (only 17% say police brutality is very common).
     It is not surprising, then, that blame for Rampart falls into two camps. African American Los Angelenos are more likely to blame the climate of the police department for the activities out of Rampart, while whites (and Latinos) are more likely to blame the specific officers involved:
     *28% of whites blame the officers involved (8% of African-Americans, 42% of Latinos)
     *6% of whites blame the climate of the LAPD (34% of African-Americans, 3% of Latinos)

     Handling the situation and the mood of the city
     While Los Angelenos think that Rampart was damaging--both to the city and to its appraisal by outsiders--their feelings toward the police department remain largely unchanged, as contentment with the LAPD was not high to begin with. African American Los Angeles city residents in particular cite no change in their opinion of the police. In fact, African Americans appear vindicated to see the issue of police misconduct come to fruition, with nearly a quarter claiming that Rampart is having a positive effect on Los Angeles--numbers that point to satisfaction at finally having long-standing accusations realized.
     At the same time, respondents were torn in their approval of the handling of Rampart investigation, with 41% approving of the way the Rampart scandal is being investigated, and 40% disapproving. An overwhelming three-quarters believe that the investigation should be conducted by an independent commission, and not by the Police Commission as is currently the case.
     Of all the elected officials involved in the investigation--Chief of Police Bernie Parks, District Attorney Gil Garcetti and Mayor Richard Riordan--respondents only singled out Garcetti as having acted irresponsibly in handling Rampart.

     How the Poll Was Conducted
     The Times Poll contacted 2,202 residents in Los Angeles county, which included an oversample of 610 L.A. city residents (for a total of 1,219 city dwellers), by telephone March 29 through April 5, 2000. Telephone numbers were chosen from a list of all exchanges in Los Angeles county. Random-digit dialing techniques were used so that listed and non-listed numbers could be contacted. The entire sample was weighted slightly to conform with census figures for sex, race, age, education and region. The margin of sampling error for the entire sample and for city residents is plus or minus 3 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. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish. Asians were interviewed as part of the overall sample, but there were not enough in the city sample to break out as a separate subgroup.