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We May Forget Dorner, But We Won't Forget The LAPD's History

Jacqueline Jackson |
March 5, 2013 | 10:27 a.m. PST


The history of the LAPD is rife with controversy. (Creative Commons)
The history of the LAPD is rife with controversy. (Creative Commons)
The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) has developed a reputation in the Los Angeles community and in the nation as one of the most brutal and corrupt police departments in the U.S., a reputation stemming from cases such as Rodney King and those involving the Rampart Division.

The LAPD has once again come under scrutiny as a result of ex-cop Christopher Dorner's allegations of the LAPD's racism, improper arresting practices and brutal force against arrestees. His 11,000 word manifesto engaged readers throughout the nation. He wrote:

“From 2/05 to 1/09 I saw some of the most vile things humans can inflict on others as a police officer in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, it wasn't in the streets of LA. It was in the confounds of LAPD police stations and shops (cruisers). The enemy combatants in LA are not the citizens and suspects, it's the police officers.”

No matter whether Dorner's specific allegations have merit, as the nation watched the manhunt for Dorner unfold, many of us remembered the LAPD's history of decades of corruption, and many of us were not surprised by Dorner's allegations.

Since its beginning, the police force has expanded to include thousands of officers within a multi-layered operations system. In the 1960s that force was featured in the national news for its brutal tactics, as were the police forces of many cities facing race riots before and after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. If the government wouldn't assist the people in correcting a system of repression based on racism, a system of which the police forces of the nation were a part, could citizen's unrest?

The citizens certainly tried. After the beating of Rodney King in March 1991, when four LAPD officers were acquitted - when even brutality caught on tape could not result in systematic change - Los Angeles erupted. The streets were ignited with a public display of racial tensions responding to an unresponsive system unable to fairly carry out law and order. The Los Angeles community and the nation have watched the LAPD with a microscope ever since, and what they saw wasn't pretty.

The LAPD's Rampart Division's involvement in scandals from murder to drugs to excessive force throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s included racist undertones. In March 1997, LAPD Officer Frank Lyga (white) shot and killed off-duty LAPD Officer Kevin Faines (black). In his defense, he stated: "In my training experience this guy had 'I'm a gang member' written all over him." Lyga was exonerated. His statement speaks volumes to the 40-year-long fight to stop racial profiling and racial bias in police action throughout the U.S. Had Faines been white, perhaps his fate would not have been sealed.

The LAPD's Rampart Division continued to be implicated in similar scandals throughout the 1990s, as well as in cases of internal corruption. For example, in February 1998, LAPD Officer Brian Hewitt, a member of the elite anti-gang unit CRASH (Community Resource Against Street Hoodlums), beat Ismael Jimenez, a member of the 18th Street Gang, while he was handcuffed at the station.

In another example, LAPD Officer Perez was convicted for stealing cocaine from the department's evidence locker. He was sentenced to five years, but given immunity from further prosecution of misconduct (short of murder) for the information he provided about the Division. This information led to an extensive internal investigation of 70 officers for misconduct ranging from bad shootings to drinking beer on the job. The cases continued to mount as the CRASH unit was disbanded by then-Police Chief Bernard Parks. As a result, in 2000, the FBI took over the department with a consent decree signed by Parks and L.A. City officials. 

These facts, compiled, form the history of the LAPD, and reflect similar issues plaguing police departments throughout the nation. Clearly, the LAPD is not the only police force with a disturbing history. The New York Police Department has also faced criticism lately for its improper and racially biased policies and practices. Its “Stop and Frisk” policy has generated a great deal of controversy. According to the Center for Constitutional Rights

“The New York City Police Department is conducting stops and frisk in record numbers – roughly 685,000 in 2011 and on track to reach over 700,000 this year. Black and Latino people are consistently and intentionally stopped at a hugely disproportionate rate: nearly 85 percent of all stops.”

Al Jazeera asked Are US police above the law?” in its most recent live stream discussion, adding to local and national concern that the police were operating outside the realm of civil rights. The New York Times reported that a federal judge even stated that a majority of the stop and frisks violated the people's constitutional right against unreasonable searches.

Two weeks after a former LAPD officer terrorized a city on a quest to reclaim his name, his dignity and his respect; two weeks after a massive manhunt for Christopher Dorner resulted in his death, the media has forgotten him. Over the coming months, stories of Dorner and his manifesto will dissipate, leaving the public with the opportunity to forget as well. However, the LAPD's history - one of brutality and of an exacerbation of racial tensions - will not be forgotten by the Los Angeles community or the LAPD.

The LAPD unquestionably is able to and must act and reflect on its oath to protect the citizens of Los Angeles. It cannot fulfill that oath unless it commences a relentless investigation into its own policies and practices. The local institutions of law and order continually face allegations of improper and biased behavior. Moving forward from that history - in the LAPD's case, from a history marred by violent riots, numerous scandals and racial bias - means remembering the oath to protect and serve the public, and examining that history from the point of view of the victims: the citizens the LAPD supposedly serves.


Reach Contributor Jacqueline Jackson here; follow her here.



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