At about 4:30 in the afternoon on June 30, a dark-colored SUV pulled to a stop on 49th Street, just east of Central Avenue in south Los Angeles. While the driver waited in the SUV, two men armed with rifles got out and began shooting at a group of people gathered in the front yard of a home. Together the gunmen fired 38 rounds, and when they drove off moments later, two young men and a 10-year-old boy lay mortally wounded among the shell casings littering the street. A fourth victim, a 12-year-old boy, was struck by gunfire but survived. Despite the offer of $105,000 in reward money, no arrests have been made in the case.
But for the number of people shot and the age of the youngest victim, this shooting was in no way an unusual incident in South Los Angeles. There are 19 patrol divisions in the LAPD, but of the 253 murders committed in the city this year as of July 15, nearly half have occurred in the four divisions that cover South L.A., an area that makes up only 43 of the city’s 473 square miles. Over the same period, a total of 634 people were shot in these same four divisions, compared with 501 shooting victims in the 15 divisions that cover the rest of the city.
Against this backdrop of carnage comes (yet another) report on the LAPD’s Rampart scandal, this one produced by a specially appointed “Blue Ribbon Rampart Review Panel.” Headed by civil-rights attorney Constance Rice, the panel’s charge was to determine whether the LAPD had sufficiently reformed itself in the wake of what has been called, against all reason, “one of the worst police scandals in American history.”
One must delve deeply into the report’s appendices in order to discover the true magnitude of the Rampart scandal, but when viewed strictly in terms of the number of officers involved it scarcely warrants such a grave description. A total of nine officers were charged with crimes in connection with the scandal. Of these, five pled guilty to state and/or federal charges, and three officers were convicted by a jury and a fourth was acquitted in a case that was at best tangential to the core of the scandal. But these convictions were later overturned by the trial judge, a ruling subsequently upheld by an appellate court. (Three of these officers were later awarded $5 million each by a federal jury that found that LAPD internal-affairs investigators had arrested them without probable cause.) Of the 86 officers sent to “boards of rights,” i.e. quasi-judicial administrative hearings, 54 were found not guilty on all counts, seven were fired or resigned, and 23 were suspended or reprimanded. (Information on two officers was not available to the board.) A stain on the LAPD, to be sure, but hardly one of the worst police scandals in American history.
In addition to reexamining the Rampart scandal, the report’s authors make an effort at prognostication, all but predicting another riot in south Los Angeles if a number of sweeping changes (read: an infusion of tax dollars) are not instituted. After a predictable litany of the social ills afflicting south L.A., there appears on page 21 of the report this ominous sentence: “These are not just underclass poverty descriptors; they are the trigger conditions for the city’s next riot.”
Among the potential sparks to this looming riot, the report claims, is the persistence of a “warrior mentality” within the LAPD, characterized by “loyalty, silence, retaliation, control, and aggression.” This mentality has been replaced by a more friendly, problem-solving model of policing in Rampart Division, says the report, but it persists in the high-crime neighborhoods of south Los Angeles. Heather Mac Donald, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute, effectively shredded this contention in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times. “As for the allegation that inner-city officers cling stubbornly to an arrogant ‘warrior mentality,’” Mac Donald writes, “the report offers no hint that any panel member ever rode along with officers or observed their interactions with the public.”
Indeed, the report is rife with anecdotes and innuendoes, but there is little in the way of hard data that would support its main thesis. A further quote from Mac Donald’s piece illustrates the point: The panel’s remaining conclusions are just as unsubstantiated. It charges that planting evidence “may not be a thing of the past” based on one sting that provoked questionable behavior on the part of a Rampart officer. The report does not disclose how many stings were conducted over what period of time before one proved fruitful — a data-free method of analysis that characterizes the entire report. This anecdote more accurately supports the opposite conclusion: that the LAPD is relentlessly monitoring itself to make sure Rampart corruption does not reoccur. What the report merely hints at, and what Mac Donald touches on only briefly, is the difference between the neighborhoods in the now cleaned-up Rampart Division and those in the yet untamed regions beyond the Santa Monica Freeway. Rampart, just west of downtown L.A. has for years been predominantly Latino, while much of south Los Angeles remains mostly black. I know we’re not supposed to talk about such things, but violent crime in Los Angeles is much more prevalent among blacks than among Latinos, as evidenced by the city’s murder statistics for 2005. There were 486 murders committed in Los Angeles last year, and though blacks constituted only about 11 percent of the city’s population they made up 40 percent of its known murder suspects. By comparison, Latinos made up about 45 percent of the city’s population and about half of its murder suspects in 2005. Whites accounted for just six percent of the city’s murders last year.
One can argue all day long about the reasons for this disparity, but the numbers can neither be ignored nor hidden behind platitudes about “problem-solving” policing. The main problem afflicting south Los Angeles, at least as far as its police are concerned, is that of people shooting each other. Though the latest Rampart report decries what it describes as intimidation tactics among south L.A.’s “warrior” cops, it’s fair to say that the two men mentioned above who, in broad daylight and at close range, murdered a 10-year-old and two others, were not feeling overly intimidated.
May they feel it soon.
— Jack Dunphy is an officer in the Los Angeles Police Department. “Jack Dunphy” is the author’s nom de cyber. The opinions expressed are his own and almost certainly do not reflect those of the LAPD management.