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race & policing
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rampart scandal
'bad cops'
race & policing

Faced with gang warfare and dramatically changing city demographics, the L.A.P.D.--a small, highly mobile police force--had to adapt quickly, adopting new strategies and expanding its hiring. Current L.A.P.D. Chief Bernard Parks, former Chief Daryl Gates, and former president of the Police Commission Gerald Chaleff reflect on the changing face of the L.A.P.D., and speculate on why the Rampart scandal could happen in such a highly respected and effective force.

Fmr. Chief Daryl Gates

Chief of L.A.P.D., 1978-1992

Help me to understand the L.A.P.D. as it existed before the torrents of the last decade, and the storms, and the controversy. What kind of police force was it?

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. . . We were the finest. We were the best in the world. We were a department that people came from all over the world to study, to look at, to see how we accomplished so much with so little; and we did. It was a department that was really raised up into professionalism through William H. Parker way back in the 1950s. That's where professionalism came into law enforcement. It was a department where you had honesty and integrity stamped right on you when you came into the Los Angeles Police Department. If you violated that, or if you were a dishonest cop, you were terrible. We got rid of you as quickly as possible. . . .

It was a department where we had very few police officers. . . for the vast area that we covered. We had a larger area in the Valley than all of Chicago. Chicago had 13,000 police officers, and we had hardly 1,000 to cover the Valley. . . . I will admit, we were a very aggressive police department. We went after crime before it occurred. . . . Our people went out every single night trying to stop crime before it happened, trying to take people off the street that they believed were involved in crime. That made us a very aggressive, proactive police department.

In the late 1980s, a lot of new folks came into the force--a great thing for the L.A.P.D., I would guess.

I thought so. I must admit that I was one of those that believe that we are going to take the opportunity to bring in more police officers. . . . We had a great deal of seized funds, that is, seized through narcotics seizures. Those funds were there. [I was] asked if I would object to using some of that to hire additional people, and I said, "Absolutely not. We really need additional people." The mayor objected to it, but it was a political thing, and we finally prevailed and got the opportunity to hire more people.

Unfortunately, when you do that, you go out and sometimes you slip, in terms of your background investigations not being as thorough as they ought to be. Plus, there's the fact that we were under a consent decree that says you have to have so many women, you have to have so many blacks and so many Hispanics. You've got to have a certain percentage, and we're trying to hire.

As a result, if you don't have all of those quotas, you can't hire all the people you need. So you've got to make all of those quotas. And when that happens, you get somebody who is on the borderline, you'd say "Yes, he's black, or he's Hispanic, or it's a female, but we want to bring in these additional people when we have the opportunity. So we'll err on the side of, we'll take them and hope it works out." And we made some mistakes. No question about it, we have made some mistakes.

No police department should hire more quickly than they can assimilate the people that they bring in, and we did. I take responsibility for it. It was the first opportunity I had to hire, and I wanted to do it, and I take responsibility.

Some folks became cops, L.A.P.D. officers, who shouldn't have.

That's right, no question about it. The background investigators slipped, probably because they were overwhelmed. . . . They did not do the depth of research that's necessary in order to really weed out those that ought not to be police officers. Some people were slipped in that ought not to have been police officers.

Would you say that among those people were David Anthony Mack, Rafael Perez, Kevin Gaines--those sorts of officers?

I don't think there is any question. I was told that David Mack, for example, has a relative who is a major narcotic dealer. What's this? Nobody turned that up? It's amazing that this guy would ever get in.

I don't know all of the problems with Rafael Perez, but I understand that he had several problems....

Gerald Chaleff

Former President of the LA Police Commission

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New York has 40,000-plus police officers. Chicago has 22,000. Los Angeles has--I think, as of today and the end of February--9,100 sworn police officers. And with our large geographical size, we have a department that primarily is in cars, responding to incidents.

Some of the effects are that we tend to have more--or at least we used to have--more arrests per contact than other departments. There is less time to do some of the community policing that other departments may do. . . . Because of our size and our geography, we tend to have less involvement with people with individual police officers on a daily basis. . . .

Do you get the sense, from the outside looking at the L.A.P.D. and how it relates to the community, that it is in a sort of state of perpetual adversarial relationship with the community?

I think part of it is because of the lack of daily involvement of people with police officers. You don't see them. In New York, you see a police officer walking down the street, he sort of looks like us. In Los Angeles, you don't see that. And the police officers don't live in the communities. Most Los Angeles police officers live outside the city of Los Angeles because of prices. In some ways, there is not a feeling that they're part of the community.

And again, because of the size, and the fact that they're mostly in cars, you have this feeling that the department and the community isn't that close. That may be why people view that [there is an adversarial relationship.] Also, the problems with the Los Angeles Police Department that have been publicized have not been ones--for the most part, until recently--of corruption. They've been one of violence. And that, again, adds to some tension between the community and the department. . . .

So if there were use of force problems, presumably there was protest over use of force. Did that tend to get traction over the years in the L.A.P.D.?

It did, at times. We had situations where there was a problem with the use of the chokehold, which was ultimately prohibited by the Los Angeles Police Department. We had the Rodney King incident. . . . We had other incidents that have caused the department to be reviewed.

We now have this consent decree that's been agreed to by the city of Los Angeles, which was based, in part, upon the fact that the Department of Justice was alleging the pattern or practice of constitutional violations that include excessive force. . . .

There seems to have been, in the last decade, a pretty constant refrain of reform. A good many commissions are formed. You served on one, the Webster Commission. There's the Christopher Commission, and the L.A.P.D. Commission afterwards. What needs to be reformed about the L.A.P.D.?

That's interesting. After viewing the department from different perspectives, including the last one of being on the Police Commission presently, I think it's clear that we need to have a greater degree of civilian involvement in the police department. . . . We need to bring in people from the outside to break through the culture, and to bring the department and the community closer together.

Is that to say that there was, there had been, there is, a problem with the L.A.P.D. culture?

There is a problem with any organization, in any bureaucracy that feels it's "us against them." I believe that if the department doesn't feel that it's totally involved with the community, it's going to be more of us against them, and then you have a problem. . . .

When you look at Los Angeles and its problems with the police department from the outside, in a way it seems that there is a disconnect. This is a police department that suddenly, in the last decade or two, is having consent decrees. They have the feds come in, and commission after commission investigating.... But this is Los Angeles. This was the best police department in the world.

Yes. I think a couple of things happened. One is, Chief Parker was very good at creating the image of the Los Angeles Police Department. He wanted a highly professional department. He came in right after the brigadier general who came in right after the war. . . . and he really professionalized the police department. He brought in a lot of the methods and the teaching that became nationwide, because he professionalized the department in a military type of model structure.

And then, of course, there was a whole connection with television, with "Dragnet." So it put L.A.P.D. in the view of being the best police department in the country, and then there were the officers. At that time, they all looked like they were 6'5", and in perfect physical shape.

That was a time when there wasn't as much diversity, and there wasn't much tension in the city of Los Angeles. But then you had the Watts riots in 1965, and that began to change things, because people began to view Los Angeles differently. They began to view Los Angeles as a city that wasn't as homogenous as it appeared, and viewed Los Angeles as a city that did have these kinds of tensions. People who didn't live in minority communities began to realize there were some problems. . . .

Chief Bernard Parks

Chief of L.A.P.D.

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I think it raised flags to us, and me personally, when we realized, in looking at his background, that [Kevin Gaines] had some very interesting relationships with what we consider some of the criminal element in our city. . . . The last thing you'd expect as a police officer would be to pull a gun on a person because of some road rage, particularly when you investigate the incident and find out the other principal was really trying to get away from that person, and [that] officer Gaines was actually the aggressor throughout the entire incident.

So all those things begin to reflect on his off-duty associations, how he's conducted himself. And the variety of complaints that were going on around him at the time began to give some concern about who he associated with, who were some of his friends, what was going on.

And we finally began to realize that some of our officers, in working off-duty, were heavily involved in the whole hip-hop culture, providing security for many of the rappers that were involved with other kinds of crimes. These things began to reflect a completely different view of some of our personnel than we had before.

A completely rhetorical question: what's wrong with that?

Well, what's wrong with it [is] that any time you deal with a criminal element and you're being part of a security force, you become part of that criminal element, because it's difficult to separate yourself.

We hold our people accountable for their off-duty and on-duty behavior. And it's very difficult to have a life outside of L.A.P.D. that deals in the criminal element, and then come back to work, and put on your badge and your uniform and say, "I'm now protecting the community and enforcing the law."

. . . I think what you find is that the department is constantly evolving. . . . People from my era view things completely different, of service to the public. We're here to provide, protect and serve. The younger officers have a different view. They're looking at primarily, "What can the department do for me? If another department pays $50 more a month, I just might transfer over there." It's a completely different view of what society expects of them. These are things that are constantly in flux in the department, and it continually evolves.

And unfortunately, we're not able to breed police officers. We are only able to hire them out of the community, and they bring the same values and principles in the community. Sometimes there is a blurred line between their perception of right and wrong. . . . Some of our younger officers believe that their off-duty behavior and their off-duty conduct is their personal business. The department has no right to know about it, nor to take any action about it, yet we view that totally differently. So there is a lot of evolution that's going on. . . .

I don't think we can ever take the human nature out of this job, and I don't think we'll ever be able to overcome a situation where a person chooses to be personally dishonest. That's something in which people always will have to make their own judgment. It's our role to eliminate, to the best of our ability, the opportunity for people to believe they can do it with the same flair that occurred in Rampart. . . .

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