The LAPD and the Battle to Redeem American
Policing" Joe Domanick; Simon & Schuster (426
seen in "Blue: The LAPD and the Battle to Redeem
American Policing" by investigative journalist Joe
Domanick, Los Angeles appears to be a city in almost
continuous search for a great man to solve the problems
of its police department and the racial rifts caused by
its traditional heavy-handed style.
gives good marks to recent reformers: Bill Bratton, who
served as police chief from 2002 to 2009, and Charlie
Beck, the current chief. But he won’t suggest that the
department has forever dropped its kick-butt approach to
street policing. He’s seen too much of the LAPD to be
a 2014 Wall Street Journal study that found the LAPD had
more officer-involved homicides than the much-larger New
York and Chicago police departments, Domanick reports,
"The upshot was that the LAPD under Beck and
Bratton appeared to be leading the big-city pack, not
leading reform by example when it came to
knows the LAPD, its brass, its beat cops and the
department’s overseers on the police commission and
City Hall. He has written extensively about the
department (including his book "To Protect and
Serve") and is associate director of John Jay
College’s Center on Media, Crime and Justice at the
City University of New York. Although he is not an
advocate, he does have strong opinions.
does not suggest he has all the answers to reforming a
police department that is large and decentralized and
subject to a variety of competing political and
community demands and pressures. But starting with the
Rodney King riots of 1992, "Blue" weaves a
compelling, fact-filled tale of a turbulent city in
transition and a police department that often seems
impervious to civilian control.
story of the post-World War II LAPD begins, in Domanick’s
view, with William Parker, who was chief from 1950 to
Parker, the LAPD became a "top-down paramilitary
organization" that "focused mainly on young
black and Latino men who happened to be on the street or
behind the wheel of a car at the wrong moment and come
into a cop’s view." Even the police dogs seemed
out of control; hundreds of cases of biting innocent
citizens were reported, leading to lawsuits.
the 1992 riot — sparked by the not-guilty verdicts of
officers charged in the Rodney King beating and the
woefully inadequate response by police — — reformers
inside and outside the LAPD fought to reverse decades of
a counterproductive policing style that favored order at
the price of alienating large segments of the community,
as Dominick documents.
book unfolds in chronological order, the narrative
bustling with telling anecdotes and clashes between
political and law enforcement figures. The depictions of
various LAPD chiefs of police do not fall far from the
accepted journalistic narrative: Ed Davis was angry and
retrograde, Daryl Gates was an unrepentant hard-nose,
Willie Williams (hired after the riots) was clueless,
and Bernard Parks was just too strict and resistant to
advice from outsiders.
assessment of Tom Bradley, mayor from 1973 to 1993, is
not overly kind. A lawyer and former police lieutenant,
Bradley knew of the department’s excesses and wanted
to make changes. But in the end, "Blue"
asserts, Bradley avoided confronting then-Police Chief
Gates, putting his aspirations to become governor ahead
of his duties as mayor. As a result, Bradley and Gates
had not spoken for more than a year when the King riot
exploded. It was left to King to plead for the violence
and looting to stop with his now-famous plea, "Can
we all get along?"
perhaps, some of the most interesting figures in
"Blue" are the bad guys. Among the book’s
best moments are the mini-profiles of reformed gang
bangers and cops turned criminals.
hard to beat Rafael Perez as a cop gone bad. Perez was
the central figure in the Rampart Division scandal in
the 1990s, when officers were found to be beating
suspects and stealing and selling their drugs, among
other things. Domanick quotes a prison-bound Perez,
"dressed in shackles and blue jail garb,"
explaining his fall from grace: "Whoever chases
monsters should see to it that in the process he does
not become a monster himself."
there is drug-dealer-turned-community-activist Andre
Christian, longtime member of the Grape Street Crips
gang. In noir style, Domanick tells us: "It took
getting shot thirteen times for Andre Christian to
reevaluate his life." Quotable in the extreme,
Christian explains why the so-called Truce Parties
between rival gangs did not work: "Between the
liquor, the weed, the gambling, the girls, and the
jealousy, the situation just basically sprang back to
the way it always was."
the rivalry between street gangs was intense in the
1990s, so too was the divide between police and African
was that divide, Domanick concludes, that allowed O.J.
Simpson defense attorney Johnnie Cochran to spin Simpson
as "the victim of an intricate LAPD
conspiracy." When the jury in October 1995
acquitted Simpson of murder, white America was stunned,
but among black college students, including at UCLA,
"the cheers couldn’t have been louder."
and his chosen successor, Beck, were major sources for
Domanick, allowing him to give an inside, although
hardly cheerleading, look at how Bratton, imported from
the East, was able to shake up the department and
control the inevitable backlash. As reported by Domanick,
Bratton’s strategy for reform was simple: develop a
constituency among civic power groups (including the
ACLU), avoid being captive of the department bureaucracy
and its tendency to restrict information, visit all
parts of the city frequently and move swiftly at any
hint of police misconduct (the MacArthur Park incident
of May Day 2007, for example).
strategy may be easily summarized but, as Domanick
argues, it was difficult to achieve results in a
department so large, so decentralized and so accustomed
to doing things differently. Domanick remains to be
convinced that the Bratton-Beck reforms will take
permanent hold in the LAPD.
"Blue" was written over many years, it is
being published at a moment when, as Domanick notes,
police departments across the nation are dealing with
accusations of police misconduct that often begin with
images on police body-cameras or iPhones held by
civilians. Hardly a day passes without a video-driven
controversy about police conduct.
I write this," Domanick concludes, "it’s far
too early to know if America’s law enforcement
establishment will take the lessons of 2014 to
course, L.A. has been down this road before. Remember
the spark of the 1992 riots that ultimately set Los
Angeles ablaze? It was a civilian video of King’s
arrest and beating by LAPD officers who had sworn to
serve and protect.