Interviews with and essays by some of those in the LAPD who were around in 1992, and were forever changed by what they saw, are a good reminder of how far our city’s police department has come.
No, the department ain’t perfect. Then again, neither am I, neither are you. But it is example number one for me when I doubt that change is possible in big public agencies. The Los Angeles Police Department is fundamentally different than the force whose thin-blue-line, us-versus-them arrogance and brutality did much to create the climate that allowed the Rodney King riots to happen, and likely necessitated their occurrence.
Here are a few of the best examples of Riot Anniversary statements by some very good LA cops.
CHARLIE BECK’S TRANSFORMATION
This is from an Op Ed by LAPD Chief Charlie Beck in Monday’s LA Times:
In 1992, I was a young Los Angeles Police Department sergeant assigned to the Internal Affairs Division and had just returned home after a long shift only to see on television the Florence and Normandie assaults, the beating of Reginald Denny and fires spreading all over the city. I was stunned at the absence of any response by my beloved LAPD. I quickly got into my personal car and drove westbound into a sunset that highlighted a city on fire and in crisis.
Reporting to the LAPD Command Post at 54th Street and Van Ness Avenue, I found myself among hundreds of fellow officers of all ranks, all of us waiting for orders. Police cars in long rows sat empty, waiting for a mission. Knowing that the city was burning from arson fires yet sitting idle left me feeling numb. On that first night, the department failed to adequately fulfill its role of protecting and serving.
Over the next six days, I saw terrible inhumanity committed against innocent people, and heroic actions by officers, firefighters and residents alike. As the arson fires burned out and the city began cleaning up the damage, I knew everything had changed. The 1992 civil unrest was a defining point in the history of the LAPD and, for me personally, a life-changing event. I knew in my heart then that we had to completely change the way we policed this city….
ANDY SMITH: THE ONCE LONELY VOICE OF A GOOD COP
This is from a short profile of LAPD Commander Andrew Smith in this month’s Los Angeles Magazine:
….I grew up in a little Midwest town where we treated the police with respect, and they treated us the same. At Newton station I was shocked by guys I worked with, guys with zero respect for the people we policed, guys who have since retired or been fired. I’d apologize to someone on the street or offer help, and another officer would say, “Why do you talk to them like that? These aren’t your friends or neighbors. These are just Newtonites.” During the Rodney King trial, I knew it was going to be bad. I’d go on calls, and every TV was on, everyone glued to the trial. But I think I was alone in my feelings….
PAT GANNON HAS A PLAN
Deputy Chief Patrick Gannon is the head of LAPD’s South Bureau, which covers the areas of South LA that were the riot’s epicenters 20 years ago. This is from Neon Tommy’s Agnus Dei Farrant’s interview with Gannon regarding what he saw and felt on April 29, 1992, and what he is determined to see done differently now:
…Even if Gannon had searched for a preventative plan [in the event of unrest after the King verdicts, he wouldn’t have found one from police Chief Daryl Gates.
“He thought he had a plan,” Gannon said. “He used to wave around this big book and said, here is our plan. It was really not a plan, it was a tactical operations manual that we use in reference to different incidences. A plan is specific to an event and we weren’t ready for that. And nor did he see it coming or he never would have been at a fundraiser [the day the riots began].”
Although he was a sergeant at the time, Gannon took the failures of the police department personally. He was disappointed in himself for not doing enough.
“Whether it was my fault or not, I was just one person in a police department but I really took it as being my problem or my fault.”
Today, Gannon is the deputy chief of LAPD’s South Bureau. Being promoted into further positions of authority, it became a personal mission to prevent another LA riot.
“As a police department, we police better. We handled our issues better, we weren’t as aggressive and forceful as we had been. And officers that were, we made sure they were held accountable for what they’ve done. We didn’t do well by that in those days.”
He also makes steps to plan for larger events and quell issues that cause community tension or anger.
“I’m not going to ignore these indicators anymore like some people did in those days. Even the mayor of Los Angeles and the police chief weren’t talking. How do you deal with such a sensitive issue when you’re not even talking?”