LAPD Blue: Department Scored for Lack of Reforms

Critical report comes as police force faces scrutiny on Simpson case

FOUR years have passed, but little has changed since members of the Los Angeles Police Department beat black motorist Rodney King in 1991.

The videotaped beating, which gained international attention, prompted a number of changes to the Los Angeles Police Department's guidelines for the treatment of suspects. But most recommended reforms have not been implemented, says the Los Angeles Police Commission, a five-member civilian oversight board in the first comprehensive evaluation of reforms.

The review comes as the LAPD is under scrutiny for its handling of evidence in the O.J. Simpson case and Police Chief Willie Williams faces criticism of his stewardship of the department.

''When we looked at the most basic recommendations that have to do with changing the culture of this department in racial issues, discipline, and excessive force, we find little has changed in four years,'' says Police Commissioner Gary Greenebaum.

The plan, released last week, estimates that a mere 40 percent of the reforms recommended by the Christopher Commission, formed in response to the King beating, have been implemented. To accelerate reforms, the report identifies 16 priority issues and establishes new deadlines.

The top five priority areas are:

* Excessive force. The department still needs to evaluate current brutality problems and develop policies for reducing unnecessary force. Investigation of complaints should move from local stations to the Internal Affairs Division, the report states.

* Performance evaluation. In matters of complaints, excessive-force incidents, promotion, and reassignment, the department needs better methods to consider officers' histories on the beat.

* Cultural-awareness training.New and veteran officers have not been adequately trained to relate to citizens of various ethnic backgrounds: African-American, Hispanic, or Asian.

* Community policing. Officers still are not getting the time they need to patrol their beats.

* Discipline structure. Citizen complaints are not investigated fairly and officers must be held accountable for misconduct.

Perhaps for the first time, the new action plan is expected to have teeth because of powers allowed to the commission by Charter Amendment F in 1993. Departing from vague, bureaucratic language of the past, the commission has also set specific deadlines for action.

Sept. 1, for instance, is the final date for completing a comparative survey of other police departments. And by Dec. 1, the LAPD must identify a way of assessing new reforms, including a way to report increases and decreases in brutality complaints.

The report and recommendations have taken on added significance midway through the five-year term of Chief Williams. Because his term is half over, Williams has been under fire in recent weeks for never having adequately taken control of the LAPD, not implementing the reforms, and not communicating clearly about where he wants to lead the department.

''The new report goes to the heart of what has been wrong with the LAPD and is as yet unaddressed by Williams,'' says Alan Parachini, of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California. ''But ... we are also concerned about the financial ramifications of some ideas.''

One part of the plan, for instance, calls for purchasing a computer-training system.

Cmdr. Tim McBride, an LAPD department spokesman, says the computers require extra budgeting. ''We can't be blamed when they ask us to do things no one has yet given us money for,'' he says.

Likewise, says Dennis Zine, director of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, programs to teach officers about other cultures require resources and time away from the beat for officers.

''We are not opposed to proceeding with Christopher Commission recommendations,'' Mr. Zine says. ''But we question the priority of purchasing computers that track officers over buying the proper equipment and training they need to do their jobs.''

To raise the debate above the combative atmosphere that has characterized post-Rodney-King Los Angeles, Commissioner Greenebaum and others are stressing their support of the LAPD.

''We advocate for improvements in equipment, higher salaries and better benefits,'' he says. ''But these changes can never be put on the back burner. They are as essential as new computers, modern equipment, and newly built stations.''

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