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May 1 melee focuses critics on LAPD ethos

Repeated scandals over excessive use of force are caused by a "warrior culture, " critics say.

Published May 13, 2007


LOS ANGELES - The Police Department's violent response at the end of an immigrant demonstration is the latest incident highlighting what critics describe as the force's "warrior culture."

It's an ethos that has been shown before: the use of clubs and tear gas to disperse 15, 000 peaceful antiwar protesters in Century City in 1967, the Watts riots in 1965, the Rodney King beating in 1991, the harsh crackdown on demonstrators at the 2000 Democratic National Convention.

Public outcry and inquiries that followed each event haven't deterred some officers from cracking a few kneecaps to assert order, even in front of cameras.

Chief William Bratton's criticism of his department and decision to quickly reassign two high-ranking officers after the immigration rally were roundly applauded, though skeptics say it's not nearly enough.

Bratton was appointed in 2002 to steer the LAPD after a rogue antigang unit scandalized the department by assaulting and framing people in the tough Rampart district. Dozens of criminal convictions were tossed out as a result of the scandal.

Bratton has since had some success in improving community relations, including his swift action after the May 1 immigration rally. However, skeptics say none of these efforts are enough to address the deep-seated culture that has caused repeated bouts of excessive force.

"The LAPD is a big ocean liner, and it will take a long time to turn around, " said Joe Domanick, a senior fellow of criminal justice at the University of Southern California's Annenberg Institute for Justice and Journalism. "(Bratton) has not focused on the paramilitary culture and us-against-them mentality that seems to still persist in the LAPD." He said the culture originated during the reign of William H. Parker, hired as chief in 1950, who imagined the city's police force as an urban army.

After the King beating, lawyer Warren Christopher, who later became secretary of state, was tapped to lead a commission in dissecting the department. The commission found that "a significant number of officers" routinely used excessive force.

Civil rights lawyer Connie Rice led a similar investigation after the Rampart scandal and, in a 2000 report, found little had changed.

Bob Baker, president of the police union, defended the police response after the May 1 clash, saying officers responded appropriately when some in the crowd threw bottles and rocks. "As Chief Bratton says, 'sometimes policing isn't pretty and there is little if any time for reflection and discussion before action, ' " Baker said.

[Last modified May 13, 2007, 01:09:57]

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