(photo of a l.a.p.d. marked police car)
photo of a police car in the day
rampart scandal
'bad cops'
race & policing
dr. mary ann hutchison

A psychologist, Dr. Hutchison moved from the west-side of Los Angeles to the Rampart community in 1999. FRONTLINE interviewed Hutchison on February 2, 2001.
Before you moved to Rampart, did you feel certain that this was a safe neighborhood?

Well, I wouldn't say we felt certain it was safe. Initially, the first time we came to look at the house, I actually experienced two drug deals in the alley when we drove behind the property. I thought, "I don't think I'm going to be able to do this." . . . [But] we did some checking. We spoke to find out that there was a strong community core of people really working hard to better the neighborhood. We met actually a lot of lovely people, people that were very open, that were working together . . . that were very committed to revitalizing the neighborhood.

Had you ever heard of a CRASH unit? Did you know that there was a particular police investment in the area?

Not beforehand. . . . I think, generationally, I grew up in a generation where the generational message was that you don't trust the police. We know the "P" word is attached to them. But when you come here, the police are your friends, and you need the police. And you realize that these men and women put their lives on the line every day on the street for you. . . . Basically, when I came here, we met police on a one-on-one basis, and the police are the people that keep your community safe, and they are the people that you depend on. . . .

So the scandal happens. The rest of the world suddenly hears that the L.A.P.D., once again, are the brutish, overly violent trigger-happy jackbooted thugs, and that, particularly, there is this cowboy vigilante group within the L.A.P.D. called the Rampart CRASH unit. How did you receive that news as the scandal broke?

Moving into the neighborhood . . . I started to realize and become educated that inner-city crime-ridden neighborhoods don't look like a shoot-out at the OK Corral. What it looks like is drug dealers hanging out on corners, people that are there that check in like clockwork. I always joke that they're better at being at work at eight o'clock in the morning than a lot of other people in this country. They are religiously there from eight o'clock in the morning to eight o 'clock in the evening. That's a very scary environment to be around.

Gunshots, several times a the day.  The helicopters coming.  People being afraid and feeling like the fragile sense of safety they had was gone.Drug dealers are there. You have the feeling that one never knows when they're going to miss. Their bullets are aimed generally at each other, at other gang members, but they miss. And people tend to be afraid for their children to go to the corner, or you stop going to certain stores, or you stop going into certain areas. . . .

Before the scandal occurred, there was an injunction in place [preventing some kinds of gang activity]. After the scandal, after the injunction was dropped, gang members who were not allowed to be seen together on the street, or hang out on the street corners together, all of a sudden were able to do that. And it literally became . . . I remember from about October through December of 1999, it was literally that you would hear gunshots several times a day. . . . You don't know what it is. Is it a car backfiring? But gunshots, several times of the day. The helicopters coming. People being afraid and feeling like the fragile security that they had, or fragile sense of safety, was gone.

I remember one time, I was waiting for a UPS delivery and there were gunshots. My UPS person came to the door. It was a Latino gentleman. He was just completely shaking. He was saying, "The gangsters. They're shooting into the store at the corner. They're just total gangsters." He asked to be moved. He went on stress for worker's comp, and he was gone. It was very intense like that for several months. . . .

I think that there is a dichotomy with the perspective of the people that don't live here versus the people that do live here. The reality is that a fragile, at best, neighborhood, pre-scandal, became severely impacted after the scandal. As a result, we have still police officers who really are demoralized, who are very much afraid to do many levels of enforcement that they need to do. Our crime statistics increased in the last year, violent crime. At the same time, our statistics show that arrests are down. Recently there was a situation where the police were called about some criminal activity going on, and they did nothing about it.

We were so concerned about it, that we finally got to talk to the police person on the phone. She called back. And I said, "What happened? You left these people at the scene." She was very kind. She just said that you know the scandal has happened. This is a paraphrase. She said, you know the scandal has happened. I don't have money to cover myself in terms of any legal things that might be thrown against me. And the reality is that we live in that kind of fear when we're dealing with arrests on the street.

People now are getting threatened by people on the street saying, "You want lawsuits thrown against you?" Community people are coming out, saying things alluding to that. So she just said, I have a family, I have kids, and it's very difficult to compromise that. I heard what she said. I understood it. And the reality is that we are seriously concerned about the level of care because of how the police have been impacted by this.

You know, you say that. And as you say that, I'm hearing the words of so many police officers that have told us they feel like they are the victims of this scandal. I guess what you're saying is that, in a way, the community has been victimized by this scandal.

We've been completely victimized by the scandal. One community person was saying that a very well-known drug dealer that lives on her street that they had been trying to get for years, is someone who's become extremely wealthy as a settlement as a result of this Rampart scandal.

So that's somewhat of the reality of it. I think there is something to be looked at. I believe that any wrongdoing should not be done. I think illegal activity should not be done. But the reality is that we have a system that protects individual rights, and many times our community rights suffer.

Insure domestic tranquility? We don't have domestic tranquility. These kinds of communities don't have it. People, I think, can be very cavalier about being upset with what they hear [about police behavior], but the reality is that they don't live in a situation where they need that level of protection. . . .

Let me ask you to assess this as someone who lives here, who works here, who has a family here, who is invested in this community. There is a police scandal, corruption, outrage; the media insists on reform; the chief of police insists on it; the police commissioner insists on reform; the politicians insist upon reform. There is reform. Is the community better off now?

I think that we are still in process of that reform. At this time, the community is not better off. At this time, the community is dealing with a wounded police force. At this time, the community is dealing with their soldiers that have returned from battle and are still pouring out blood. I mean, these people are not functioning at optimum level. I don't believe that optimum level, at the way we have our system now, will change this. But police that don't feel supported by their department and their superiors are not going to be able to do the job on the street.

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