[CD4 Election] Rodney King, Community Policing and Body Cameras

Candidates Speak on the LAPD and Ferguson

policeTapeSince September, we’ve asked the Los Angeles City Council candidates for District 4 their thoughts on a variety of subjects. 

This month, we ask the 14 candidates, who have qualified for the March 3rd ballot, to comment on policing in Los Angeles in the wake of protests nationwide over the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO and the choke hold death of Eric Garner, in New York. We focused the candidates on the Los Angeles Police Dept. (LAPD) regarding officer-mounted cameras (the first of such to be in place in Los Angeles this summer); the possibility of new de-escalation guidelines and their impressions of Chief of Police Charlie Beck.

Candidate David Ryu compared the culture of the LAPD during the Compton 1965 and 1992 Rodney King riots to today and said communication by the LAPD and its relationship to the overall community is better by “leaps and bounds.”

“There is always room for improvement,” he said, “but currently the LAPD is a world-class force and that is due in large part to the strong leadership at the top.”

Ryu said Beck is doing an admirable job and “has lived up to his strong reputation, thus far.”

For Ryu, the key to keeping the LAPD at the forefront is recruiting and retaining the best officers that can develop relationships of trust in the communities they police.

Candidate Carolyn Ramsay, as former chief of staff for the current CD4 Councilmember Tom LaBonge, said she has worked with Beck and has found him to be “smart, tough and fair.”

“Our communities continue to be safer with him leading our police department,” she said.

But Ramsay said the lack of transparency with the grand jury system, nationwide, is concerning. Grand juries recently chose to not indict the officers involved with the Brown and Garner cases, sparking mostly peaceful protests nationwide.

“We’re all frustrated with the lack of transparency in the grand jury system,” she said. “The outcomes haven’t been aligned with what little information we do receive or the actual experiences in our own communities. We need more [transparency] to ensure justice prevails in our communities.”

Ramsay pointed to the success, however, of Los Angeles’ community policing program, to make neighborhoods safer.

“The LAPD’s senior lead officer system,” she said, “is just one example of stronger cooperation between communities and police officers.”

Senior lead officers are LAPD personnel who work closely with residents, business owners and officials in their respective communities. In many cases, community members can access their SLO, as they are known, directly through email or cell phone.

Candidate David Ryu compared the culture of the LAPD during the Compton 1965 and 1992 Rodney King riots to today and said communication by the LAPD and its relationship to the overall community is better by “leaps and bounds.”

“There is always room for improvement,” he said, “but currently the LAPD is a world-class force, and that is due in large part to the strong leadership at the top.”

Ryu said Beck is doing an admirable job and “has lived up to his strong reputation, thus far.”

For Ryu, the key to keeping the LAPD at the forefront is recruiting and retaining the best officers that can develop relationships of trust in the communities they police.

Candidate Joan Pelico said growing up in the Bronx, she was raised without prejudice or bias, and put an emphasis on her belief that people are taught prejudice. “We aren’t born that way,” she said.

Like other candidates, Pelico said she feels Los Angeles has made incredible progress since the Rodney King riots. Although she said the LAPD has been stripped of a lot of power since 1992, the result is a department more accountable for its actions.

“LAPD officers have a lot of training, they don’t just go out there,” she said. “Chief Beck and the captains, they do talk to their officers and there are disciplinary actions,” she said, for police misconduct.

Pelico said she supports body cameras for police because it is good policy for both officers and civilians.

“If you have body cameras for police officers,” she said, “I know some police who would think, why don’t you put body cameras on the criminals? Because there are two sides.”

Pelico also spoke of economic inequality, both nationally and locally, which she said leads to crime in the first place.

“When you look at Ferguson, what’s the point of all those people stealing from those stores and looting from their own community and hurting their own community?… Because they’re poor,” she said. “Because they don’t have. Because they can’t afford these things.”

Her solution is simple: educating and listening.

“It’s all about listening…to what their needs and their concerns are,” she said. “We have to help our own and we cannot turn our backs on these people.”

In light of current national events, candidate Teddy Davis also acknowledged “deep divides” within our country.

“There are preconceptions wired into us and we have to work to get beyond them,” he said.

Locally, he praised the LAPD’s improvements at “scrutinizing its own force” since Rodney King and the Rampart police corruption scandal.

He also said transparency, such as releasing the names of officers involved in shootings is also key. Such disclosure, however, must be done knowing officers and their families will be safe.

Davis also said the LAPD now more mirrors the communities it serves.

“Los Angeles has dramatically improved the diversity of its police force and has embraced the community policing model,” he said.

Candidate Step Jones, a small Sherman Oaks business owner, said he believes raising the salary of LAPD officers would eliminate potential on-the-job misconduct.

“I think the LAPD should be the highest paid in the country,” he said. “With that there should be a zero tolerance [policy] on the job. Stupid things should not be permitted.”

Candidate Rostrom Sarkissian said police misconduct and police related fatalities are complex issues that call for a shift in perception, restraint and building trust.

“There is this balance between [an officer’s] perceived sense of safety… and the public’s need for a police force that [responds in a] measured way,” he said.

Sarkissian said Los Angeles’s language barriers also impede progress of trust between officer and civilian.

“Some [people] might not speak [English],” he said, “which brings a fear of cops not understanding them. This can contribute to the culture of mistrust.”

Candidate Michael Schaefer, had many thoughts on the issue, including his positive impression of Chief Beck and that the LAPD has recovered mostly from the racial tensions between the “trigger happy” police force and citizens during the 1990s. But he remains empathetic with those who have experienced police brutality in the past.

Schaefer recalled seeing a teenager arrested around Hollywood Boulevard, some time ago, because the boy chose not to provide an officer identification when requested.

“The cop threw him on the ground and arrested him. If I was a city councilman,” then, he said, “I would have gotten that cop’s information and let him know that he is not representing our city as he should.”

Candidate Wally Knox had mixed reviews for Police Chief Beck. While Knox said he acknowledges that Los Angeles’s crime statistics have declined under Beck’s leadership, he questioned the LAPD’s own policing of itself.

“A fair and equitable disciplinary system is crucial to the operation of the police department, but there is a perception that there is favoritism in the disciplinary process. . . There are few things that can more rapidly lower the morale of a police force than the perception that its officers are not subject to the same careful standards of disciplinary review,” he said.

Looking ahead, Knox said with the realignment of the state and county prison populations, there are many who say Los Angeles could begin to see an increase in crime.

“We have enjoyed the fruits of a period in which a sophisticated, computerized tracking system resulted in decreasing crime statistics,” he said. “But, the department and the chief, will have to up their game to deal with the issues realignment will bring.”

Knox also questioned whether officers today have been sufficiently trained in the use of various non violent tools, such as tear gas, tasers and “bean bags” to deescalate a confrontation and “to react thoughtfully rather than reflexively” to the city’s various cultures of which police are viewed differently.

“Some cultures stress compliance with authority,” he said. “In other cultures… police are seen as an extension of the police in the ‘old country’—as the enemy.”

Knox also said other city’s have “successfully raided our ranks for highly desirable, experienced officers.”

The result, he said, is a force of relatively inexperienced officers who have not learned the importance of thinking through a situation.

From an emotional standpoint Candidate Tomas O’Grady said he feels “uncomfortable” with firearms including police officers exposing their weapons.

That practice, O’Grady said, is in far contrast to his upbringing in the British Isles, where he said unarmed police are the norm. To that end, he questioned why officers have weapons on Los Angeles Unified School District campuses.

O’Grady praised former police chief, and Los Feliz resident, Bill Bratton who is now the police commissioner for the New York Police Dept., and current Chief Beck for reining in the police culture that produced the Rodney King riots.

“We can always be better,” he said, “but fair play to the LAPD. What a wonderful organization compared to what they were 20 years ago.”

In response to the recent incidences of police killings in New York and Ferguson, O’Grady does not agree with the notion that people are innately fearful of other cultures citing a Canadian Royal Mounty Police study that dismisses the concept altogether.

He said black men and women in Los Angeles are still harassed and humiliated regularly without cause and excuses won’t do. Instead, he said, the police system needs reexamining.

“There’s a culture,” within the LAPD, he said, “that it’s we versus them; we are the occupying force; they are the citizens and need to be controlled.”

O’Grady said police departments also act more like the military with an attitude of “commanded control” and sometimes exhibit a lack of ethical decision making regarding how to “treat another human being.”

“Your job,” he said, speaking directly to police, “is to help citizens obey the law…  in the most dignified way as possible [and to] not berate somebody and talk to them disrespectfully.”

Broadly, O’Grady even blamed police officers’ uniforms for setting the wrong tone. He said they remind him of the Gestapo during Germany’s Third Reich.

“It is the uniform,” he said. “All those symbols make me uncomfortable and I’m a white man and I live in Los Feliz. I just think to soften the image of the police department can help a lot.”

Candidate Tara Bannister said she remains a strong supporter of the LAPD, who she said “puts themselves in harm’s way every day.”

“I cannot imagine going to work every day facing danger and violent situations,” she said.  However, she said: “Americans now require more of police officers—more humanity, more de-escalation and more compassion,” even when the human reaction would be to fight.

She said she advocates for more “peace keeping” and due to recent national events and protests, “our police officers should be on notice and adjusting tactics. Period.”

Ask CD4 council candidate Jay Beeber about the NYPD’s fatal arrest of Eric Garner and you’ll get a take that differs from the usual criticisms of the arresting officer’s chokehold technique.

“Taxes on cigarettes are so high in New York City that it sets up a black market,” Beeber said. “It’s really the fault of the state in setting up that confrontational situation in the first place.”

Beeber said the larger issues are often created over smaller ones.

“Government often creates laws and enforcement policies that bring police officers and the public into contentious interactions over extremely trivial matters,” he said. He referred to the selling of untaxed cigarettes, in the case of Garner, and the recent crackdown by the LAPD of pedestrians in downtown Los Angeles ticketed by the LAPD for nearly $200 for using crosswalks after the countdown timer started.

“We’re having the police be our revenue collectors,” he said, “and that’s absolutely the wrong role for the police department.”

In the wake of the police response to protests in Ferguson, a nationwide debate erupted over the increasing militarization of police departments, as armored vehicles, night-vision goggles and machine guns have become increasingly common for police departments.

Beeber lamented the trend, here and elsewhere.

“That leads police to start thinking of themselves as an occupying force. There’s that us-against-them mentality,” he said.

Beeber said he supports Mayor Garcetti’s move to put body cameras on LAPD officers, but that is not, he said, the complete answer either.

“Transparency is not the same as accountability. There was a very clear video record of the interaction leading up to Eric Garner’s death and the actual incident,” he said. Even so, a grand jury did not indict the officer involved in that case.

Candidate Sheila Irani credits the improvement between the LAPD and Los Angeles citizens to reforms required by 1992’s Charter Amendment F and the 2001 U.S. Dept. of Justice consent decree imposed on the LAPD in the wake of the Rampart scandal and other abuses.

“We’ve taken a lot of things to heart and made some significant changes,” Irani said.

She also said she credits the LAPD’s diversity gains.

“The face of the police is so different,” she said. “You have African American cops, Korean cops, commanders and chiefs. It represents the city now. [The] LAPD looks like Los Angeles.”

Not that Irani is without criticisms. For one, she thinks more hires should come from the communities where police officers live, rather than outlying suburbs.

She also suggested rotating cops through different units to prevent officers on tough beats—gang units, for example—from racial profiling.

“When you’re constantly being exposed to people of color who are in gangs, it becomes hard for you not to see everyone that way,” Irani said. “There has to be some psychological effect if those are the only people you encounter.”

Irani said she still hears stories from her black friends of unjustified traffic stops and she worries about the rapid escalation of force in cases such as the LAPD’s shooting of a 25-year-old mentally ill man, Ezell Ford, in August.

“They seem to be on such high-anxiety mode,” she said.

Irani says the LAPD has adopted the right approach with community policing and trust-building programs such as the Police Activities League, in which officers work with youth in crime-ridden areas.

“It’s going to take decades of this kind of policing to solidify trust in these communities,” she said. “I trust in the system and the approach the LAPD is taking now with…  community policing.”

Candidate Fred Mariscal said he is still researching the NYPD’s new de-escalation policies, which include cultural sensitivity training.

“But, I’m all for less use of force,” he said, “So, in principle, I like the idea.”

Finally, candidate Steve Veres remembers growing up in Los Angeles, attending Loyola High School in 1992 and experiencing the epicenter of the Los Angeles riots that year.

“I remember going down Western Avenue and seeing Korean business owners on the top of their businesses with fully automatic assault rifles. That’s certainly not the Los Angeles that many of us thought we should be living in,” he said.

Like the other candidates, he said there’s been significant improvement since the police beating of Rodney King, including the LAPD’s hiring of more women, more people of color and those with more varied backgrounds.

But, he said, there’s still plenty of room to improve.

He referred to 2007 when police brutalized immigrant rights demonstrators under former LAPD Chief Bratton and last summer’s police killing of Ford, another man from South Los Angeles and a man killed in Hollywood by the LAPD in December who was armed only with a pocketknife.

“We’re not Ferguson by any sense,” he said, “but we still have a long ways to go. We’ve got to get used to that community relations component of being a law enforcement officer, not just an enforcer of the law.”

He also is in favor of LAPD body cameras that, he said, are often for the protection of officers as much as for civilians.

“There’s not a whole lot of hiding anymore,” he said.

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2 Responses

  1. Waverly Resident says:

    Many good points raised by the Candidates here regarding LAPD.

    In particular, this one by O’Grady:
    “Your job,” he said, speaking directly to police, “is to help citizens obey the law… in the most dignified way as possible [and to] not berate somebody and talk to them disrespectfully.”

    For all the decades I’ve been living in Los Angeles, UNLESS it’s one of the officers that already knows me, or if I’m not in business clothes, I am not treated with dignity or as an “equal” by the typical LAPD officer. It just doesn’t happen. (And I’m a white man!)

    This is a problem, and one that LAPD doesn’t seem to care about, or care about changing. Which is why SO many people — law abiding residents of LA — have such a negative view of the LAPD. The culture within LAPD that it’s “us vs. them” still exists, and hasn’t changed THAT much since the days of Darryl Gates. Even with the diversity now in the department.

    Additionally, until REAL community-based policing occurs (if ever), where you have cops actually WALKING a beat, interfacing with residents constantly, and getting to know some of them, the culture can’t change. It’s impossible. The barriers cannot be broken down when the majority of the police are in cars all the time until a police action. That’s the crux of the issue today, that no one seems to understand. Or care to actually address.

  1. January 22, 2015

    […] accused O’Grady of comparing the Los Angeles police to the “Gestapo” in a newspaper interview. O’Grady, who runs a non-profit, fired back, saying that Davis had twisted his words, and […]

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