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Legacy of Christopher Dorner case: rekindled distrust, resentment of police

When ex-cop Christopher Dorner pursued his fatal vendetta against Los Angeles Police Department, his cause resonated with some in the black community. Why has the old rift between police and minorities been so hard to heal?

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Still, the Atlanta Police Department has room for improvement in its dealings with the city's poor black enclaves, says Paul Bartels, chairman of the Atlanta Citizen Review Board, which provides independent but nonbinding oversight of the police department.

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"The vast majority of complaints [about police misconduct] are from poor, inner-city minority communities, and I think if we see those kinds of instances and conduct happening in [the richer, predominately white enclaves of] Buckhead or Virginia Highlands, those practices would stop right away," he says.

"There's no doubt that sometimes there are lingering effects of racism [in the force], but in many of our cases the complaints involve police officers who are black along with the complaining witness, which means there are other dynamics along with racism."

Turner, for his part, has fired more officers than any other police chief in Atlanta's history and usually doles out harsher punishment than the Citizen Review Board recommends in cases of brutality or excessive force.

In defense of the LAPD

In some ways, Los Angeles is an ideal laboratory to test strategies for improving police ties to the public, especially to minority communities.

Its police department has had a negative reputation to overcome; its populace is incredibly diverse, intensifying the challenge of community-sensitive policing; and it is too spread out to allow for officers to patrol primarily on foot.

Bucking the recent voices of defiance concerning the LAPD, Mr. Aziz of the National Black Police Association describes it as "one of the most progressive police departments in the United States." He adds: "I would believe that there are a few departments that come to mind in regards to corruption before Los Angeles. The most promising practices against police abuse and corruption are rooted in community-based policing."

Under Bratton, who served as LAPD chief from 2002 to 2009, the police held frequent community forums in neutral locales such as the First AME Church, recalls Lance Triggs of Operation HOPE, which formed in 1994 in the wake of the Los Angeles riots after the Rodney King case.

"People here were encouraged by these city-hall-style forums," he says, "because there was real back and forth with real policemen and top brass at the same time."

To Aziz, the remaining big hurdle to creating fully professional police forces – and the end of the vestiges of the "blue code of silence" – is a lack of accountability at the national or state level.

"We must have a national standard. This is no easy task to develop, but we have great minds connected to the field of policing. It is no longer enough to leave right and wrong up to individual departments," Aziz says.

Such standards, he adds, must include competent civilian review boards and metrics for community engagement.

He recommends that national police organizations form a commission to craft policies and procedures for police departments to follow – and that associations representing minority officers be at the table.

"The US Congress," he suggests "may be needed for some accountability actions."

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