LAPD review of Christopher Dorner firing: why black community wants more
Even 20 years after the Rodney King riots, mistrust simmers between the LAPD and the black community. Some leaders say federal authorities need to investigate Christopher Dorner's claims.
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Since then, a succession of police chiefs here has made reform a high priority. The depth of the problem was such that the federal government even stepped in to provide oversight for eight years. These steps helped clean up the department, most agree. The changing demographics of the force – 37 percent white now compared with 59 percent in 1992 – are one sign of how far the LAPD has come.Skip to next paragraph
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The Dorner case provides a test of whether those reforms have taken hold, some observers say. Many of the most significant gains were made under former chief William Bratton, who was hired from outside the department. Now that Beck – a lifetime veteran of the LAPD – is chief, he is loath to continue the same level of discipline that Bratton instituted, given that so many in the department are longtime colleagues, critics say.
“This [Dorner manifesto] posed a serious frontal challenge to the LAPD's decade-long efforts to transform the department into a kindler, gentler, community-oriented department,” says Earl Ofari Hutchinson, author of several books on the black experience in America and president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable. “The fact that that image of the LAPD is still burned into the memory and belief of many, gave Dorner's allegations some resonance."
Beck’s reopening the case "was, in part, a sound police-investigation move, and in part a move to protect the image of the LAPD as a department that doesn't do business in the old insular, oppressive ways,” Mr. Hutchinson says.
Lt. Andy Neiman, a spokesman for the LAPD, says the investigation will be conducted by the Office of Inspector General, which is the civilian head of the Los Angeles Police Department and assists the Police Commission in providing independent civilian oversight. He says Beck was not police chief at the time of Dorner’s firing, but was chief of the south bureau where Dorner was assigned.
He says Beck did not bow to public pressure in agreeing to reopen the investigation Saturday, but rather read accounts showing the public was very concerned and wants to “make sure we got it right, and if not, to make it right.”
But some national observers agree that if any progress has been made, it needs to be verified and validated by an independent body – and the further away it is from Los Angeles, the better.
“If there is one ounce of truth in Dorner’s manifesto, it needs to be verified from outside,” says Damon Jones, New York representative for Blacks in Law Enforcement of America. “Cases like this are happening all over the country where [an officer of color] gets punished for doing the right thing. The police cannot investigate themselves. [US Attorney General] Eric Holder needs to step up and investigate these police departments.”
Still, other national analysts applaud Beck for at least providing an opening for further scrutiny .
Says Mary Powers, coordinator of Citizens Alert, Chicago’s 46-year-old police watchdog group: “For the LAPD to re-look at this case may not be the scrutiny that Los Angeles’s black community really wants and needs, but at least it’s a start.”