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Los Angeles riots: 20 years later, has LAPD reformed?

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Across the street, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa speaks to an assembly of elementary school students gathered at the Quincy Jones Elementary School, built in the heart of South Los Angeles in the wake of the riots. Noting the hiring of more women and Latino officers, he says, “because of the attention and outcry of this city, we’ve been able to make hosts of reforms.”

Earl Ofari Hutchinson, president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable and a longtime critic of the LAPD, says the department has made big strides. Several blue-ribbon commissions have helped, as has community policing, in which cops on the beat spend time getting to know residents rather than just speeding through neighborhoods in their squad cars. Federal oversight from 2001 to 2009 also meant comprehensive audits.

But it was the leadership of Mr. Bratton, who arrived in 2002 and left in 2009, that marked a high point for the department in becoming kinder and gentler and demanding zero tolerance for abuse, violence, and misconduct.

“Bratton really went out of his way to say what was needed, [and] also to show up at our meetings and talk to us all the time,” says Mr. Hutchinson. “There was a mandate from within to hire more women, Latinos, Asians, and gays, and a personal demonstration from him and other leadership that he meant everything he said. I’d have to say it has worked.”

Local black activist Najee Ali likewise gives the LAPD an “A” for what it has achieved. He says police regularly come into the neighborhoods for formal discussions with residents and have improved response times dramatically, which makes residents feel the police are for them rather than against them.

“They have a senior lead officer assigned directly to work with each neighborhood so that when some complaint or nuisance report comes in, it’s usually dealt with within 24 hours,” he says. Those reports include complaints such as vagrancy, gang activity, drug dealers, and graffitti.

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