Los Angeles Times

The LAPD is almost as good as it always claimed to be

- By Joe Domanick

Iwatched a young Korean American woman with a faded smile holding a garden hose, water dribbling out, aimed at her family’s flaming mini-mart. I saw a big-bellied Latino dressed in shorts, wheeling a shopping cart out of a battered Sav-On. It was filled with boxes of Ramses condoms and AA batteries. And, on the first night, I witnessed a guy smash a concrete slab into the window of a passing DWP pickup downtown. A line of Metro cops, standing by, buckled toward him in response but their sergeant barked, “Hold the line.” And they held the line.

The 1992 riots were among the bloodiest of the 20th century, a violent outcry aimed squarely at the Los Angeles Police Department. Twenty-five years later, things have changed.

The riot’s antecedent­s were the deadly shooting of 15-year-old Latasha Harlins by a Korean grocer and the vicious beating of Rodney King by four white LAPD officers. Harlins’ killer got probation. King’s tormenters were acquitted by a predominan­tly white, out-of-town jury.

Crime was high in L.A. in the early 1990s, and the Los Angeles Police Department was a violent, inept army of occupation in the city’s black and brown communitie­s. Daryl Gates was the last of a line of imperious, unaccounta­ble LAPD chiefs, reflexivel­y defending their troops. Well before the riots, Gates made it clear he intended to remain chief in perpetuity.

But then he deserted his command post just after the Rodney King acquittals were announced, heading to a Brentwood fundraiser aimed at defeating a charter amendment intended to limit the tenure of LAPD chiefs.

Rudderless and utterly unprepared, the LAPD watched with the rest of us as the city burned. Gates, shorn of all credibilit­y, was forced to resign. Voters passed the charter amendment he’d tried to defeat. A newly strengthen­ed Police Commission would fire the next two chiefs when they couldn’t get the reform job done. That paved the way for two chiefs who could: William J. Bratton and Charlie Beck.

Now the LAPD is almost as good as it always claimed to be. But it took 25 years.

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