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L.A. Police Force Under Fire

LAPD still dealing with fallout from Rodney King beating in April

SEVEN months after the police beating of a black motorist made national headlines, the Los Angeles Police Department has been stung by expensive court settlements and barraged with new charges of ethnic/racial bias and complaints that they are unresponsive to reform.* Last week, the city's largest black police officers' association concluded the LAPD discriminates against black officers and the black community in recruitment, training, and promotion. * To avoid litigation over a complaint filed against the city by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, the City Council Nov. 5 agreed to promote and give pay raises to more Latino, black, and Asian-American police officers. r * The City Council Nov. 7 approved paying $7.1 million to settle 12 cases of alleged police misconduct and excessive force, bringing the yearly total to over $13 million. The payout included a $5.5 million settlement to an arena groundskeeper shot in 1987 by an off-duty officer in a case of mistaken identity. * The chief lawyer for the Christopher Commission - the independent investigators that scrutinized all aspects of the city's law enforcement in the wake of the beating - has openly charged the LAPD with "resisting meaningful reform" and missing "the central thrust" outlined in the commission's 250-page recommendations. "A group cannot be continually inundated with charges like these without some sort of demoralizing effect," says Fred Nixon, chief spokesman for police chief Daryl Gates. "Despite all this, the officers are doing what is expected of them on the streets, while the department as a whole deals with moving forward." "The Rodney King affair continues to open things wide," says detective Rick Barrera, president of La Ley, the 1,000-member Latin American Law Enforcement Association. When his group lodged similar promotion-bias complaints against the LAPD in 1985, they were met with inaction. But now the time is ripe, Barrera says. "The LAPD knows times are changing and that our needs cannot be overlooked any longer," he says. The new settlement sets annual goals for pay increases in promoting the LAPD's 3,000 Latino, black and Asian-American officers to sergeant, detective, and lieutenant. It also requires the police department to promote 80 percent of those in each ethnic group who qualify or apply for promotion each year. The city must also set aside funds to help minority officers prepare for promotional tests, interviews and career counseling. Sgt. James Craig, president of the Oscar Joel Bryant Association, says his main concern is upward mobility for black officers. Though his organization's position paper stopped short of faulting Chief Gates, it said, "in the areas of discipline, coveted assignments and recruitment, there is strong evidence ... that discriminatory practices have had a high level of tolerance within the department." The paper also shows there are only eight black officers out of 112 in the training division; 16 out of 108 in a drug-rehabilitation program known as "DARE"; 15 of 258 in an elite, metropolitan division; and 34 out of 389 in a narcotics group. "There is some anger that individuals have not progressed to the level their talents dictate," he says. But he adds that he is satisfied the LAPD is moving quickly to address black concerns. "We know they are taking us seriously, but that changes can't come overnight," he says. John Spiegel, chief counsel for the Christopher Commission, is not as sanguine: "Rather than accepting the opportunity for fundamental reform," he told one city-council committee, "the leadership of the LAPD has treated the central recommendations as simply restatements of existing policy. "The problems identified by the commission were not in the stated policies of the LAPD regarding use of force, but in the enforcement and implementation of those policies." For his part, Gates has both conceded points to his critics as well as challenged them vociferously. "I can live with it," he said of the new moves to boost recruitment of minority officers. "We will continue to base our management decisions on merit while keeping in mind affirmative action goals." But to the record jury award, Gates retorted: "The jury was swayed by compassion but not the facts. At a time when more and more street violence involves the use of guns, [the award] says [to our officers] that if you see someone with a gun, it might be better just to ignore it. Fortunately LAPD officers are professionals and will continue to do their jobs despite these demoralizing court awards."

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