Mixed feelings and LAPD

According to their critics, LAPD “clings to a warrior culture“. I have (as my subject line says) mixed feelings about this piece, on the one hand if you read the article the bias of the author at the AP is so apparently anti-LAPD that it’s almost silly. At the same time, there are important points that the author makes in the article.

I want to go over the article with a fine toothed comb, if you will, and extract not only the bias, but the important (and correct) points that are made. First off, a little background on myself may be necessary.

I’ve mentioned before that I grew up in the LA/Metro area, and that my father was an LA County Sheriff’s Deputy. I’ve also had my share of experience of law enforcement at the federal level, all of which has led me to be generally “pro-police” in my opinions. That leads to the very heart of my mixed feelings towards a lot of the current state of law enforcement, with LAPD actually serving as an excellent example.

On to the article, then.

The Los Angeles 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’s been on display before — the use of clubs and tear gas to disperse 15,000 peaceful anti-war protesters in Century City in 1967, the Rodney King beating in 1991, the harsh crackdown on demonstrators at the 2000 Democratic National Convention.

You’ll notice it doesn’t say anything about the riots that followed the acquittal of the officers involved in the King beating, however. I can’t say that I remember the ’67 violence, seeing as I wasn’t born, but I remember the King case, and I remember the riots that followed. I thought then (and I do now) that the officers involved in the King incident used reasonable force, as they didn’t have certain non-lethal options like the taser to use. The technology available in non-lethal formats has advanced significantly since ’91.

In reference to the “warrior ethos” within LAPD itself, Joe Domanick, a senior fellow of criminal justice at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Institute for Justice and Journalism said the following:

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.

Domanick said Parker’s view was: “We’re the only thing standing between chaos and anarchy. We are the professionals. We know better. No one tells us better.”

This is the source of my personal issues with LAPD – not so much the warrior ethos but the paramilitary nature of the department itself. The attitude referenced above is still trained into new recruits, it is definitely part of the culture of the department. It’s a double-edged sword; because LA isn’t exactly a nice place all the time and often swift force is needed, but then the sword swings back and excessive violence is used on people that don’t deserve it.

LAPD is doing a difficult job, made worse by the simple fact that most people don’t trust them. Further trust isn’t fostered by articles like the one I linked to, however it’s also not fostered by pummeling handcuffed suspects with flashlights.

“As Chief Bratton says, ‘Sometimes policing isn’t pretty and there is little if any time for reflection and discussion before action,’ “

This is also true, but it doesn’t help anyone either.

As you’ve no doubt noticed, my personal conflicts on this issue can be readily seen in the entry above. As I said, I’m generally supportive of law enforcement, but the modern trend towards turning police departments into paramilitary organizations is extremely concerning. I’ve always held the opinion (and still do) that for police departments to be as effective as possible, they must have the trust of the community that they’re policing. At the same time, they need to be able to react with violent and appropriate force dangerous threats, such as the North Hollywood gunfight.

A balance has to be struck. I don’t particularly find fault with a warrior ethos within the ranks of LAPD, where I come from “warrior ethos” is another word for “pride”. The deepest root of the issues with LAPD isn’t how they perceive themselves, it’s how the public perceives them.

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