How Racial P.C. Corrupted the LAPD
By Jan Golab
The LAPD was once known as "the world's greatest police department," due largely to its stringent character screening. Back in the era of Sergeant Joe Friday, LAPD candidates were checked out as thoroughly as homicide suspects. Even a casual relationship with any known criminal excluded a candidate from being considered as a police officer.
All that is now history. In a bid to appease racial activists and meet federal decrees, strict screening and testing measures were dismantled. New black and Hispanic officer candidates were hustled into the ranks at any cost. What former deputy chief Steve Downing called "a quagmire of quota systems" was set up, and "standards were lowered and merit took a back seat to the new political imperatives."
It was back in 1981 that the LAPD first entered into a federal consent decree that instituted quotas for female and minority hiring. To meet these demands, the standards for physical capability, intellectual capacity, and personal character were lowered. The result was that many incapable or mediocre recruits--even significant numbers with criminal links or gang associations--were accepted into the department.
L.A. is not the only city that damaged its police force in a headlong rush for "diversity." During the 1990s, Washington, D.C. had to fire or indict 250 cops after a similar lowering of standards, and New Orleans indicted more than 100 crooked or inept cops who had been hired--it was later found--due to "political pressures." Miami had a similar scandal after scores of cops hastily recruited in response to race riots and an immigration surge got involved in robbing cocaine dealers and reselling their drugs. "We didn't get the quality of officers we should have," acknowledged department spokesman Dave Magnusson.
A scholarly study published in April 2000 in the professional journal Economic Inquiry found that aggressive "affirmative action" hiring raised crime rates in many parts of the U.S. In careful statistical analysis of 1987-1993 U.S. Department of Justice data from hundreds of cities, economist John Lott (then of the Yale School of Law, now a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute) found that quotas requiring more black and minority police officers clearly increase crime rates. When affirmative action rules take over, he reports, the standards on physical strength tests, mental aptitude tests, and other forms of screening are lowered. The result is a reduced quality of officers--both minority and non-minority recruits end up being less impressive.
Politicians refuse to admit that dropping standards can create problems, but other L.A. authorities are blunt about it. Los Angeles's police academy, training experts say, can no longer reliably be used as "a de-selector" (to use the P.C.-speak). "I had mediocre trainees, some just plain incompetent. They were giving us trash. I finally transferred out because I didn't want to go out in the field with these kids anymore," explained retired LAPD training officer Jim Peasha. When he got a bad minority recruit, Peasha couldn't drum him or her out, no matter what. "I had some fantastic minority recruits. One black kid was the best I ever had. But I also had one guy who I knew was on drugs and I couldn't get him out. He wound up getting caught working as a guard at a rock [cocaine] house. An off-duty cop!"
Rot protected by race
On March 16, 1997, black off-duty LAPD officer Kevin Gaines was shot and killed in a "road rage" dispute. Gaines, angry and out of control, had pulled a gun on motorist Frank Lyga and threatened to "cap his ass." Lyga, it turned out, was an undercover LAPD narcotics detective. He drew his 9 mm pistol and shot Gaines through the heart. Only later did he learn that Gaines was also LAPD. The incident made international headlines: "Cop Kills Cop."
Russell Poole, who had a reputation as one of the LAPD's best homicide detectives, was assigned to investigate the shooting. He discovered that Kevin Gaines drove an expensive Mercedes Benz, wore $5,000 suits, $1,000 Versace shirts, and lived his off-duty life in the fast lane of L.A. and Las Vegas nightclubs, a lifestyle he obviously didn't maintain on his $55,000-per-year policeman's salary. Gaines had many credit cards with expenses like the $952 he had dropped just the month before for lunch at Monty's Steakhouse in Westwood, a favorite hangout for black gangster rappers. And at the time of his death, Gaines was living with the ex-wife of gangster rap music mogul Suge Knight--whose own criminal history included eight felony convictions.
It turned out that Gaines, like a significant number of other LAPD officers, was working on the side to provide "security" for Death Row Records, Knight's notorious hoodlum rap music business that was deeply enmeshed in drugs and gang violence. The FBI had been following Gaines, who they suspected was moving drugs and money around L.A. for Death Row. Gaines was shameless. The vanity plates on his Mercedes read "ITS OK IA"--a brash taunt to the department's Internal Affairs department.
While investigating Gaines, Poole was led to another flashy black cop named David Mack. Mack had grown up in a gang-infested Compton neighborhood before being hired by the LAPD. His nearly inseparable friend was fellow police officer Rafael Perez. Like Gaines, Mack and Perez lived large--nightclubs, girls, expensive cars and clothes.
In December 1997, David Mack was arrested for the armed robbery of a Bank of America branch in which he got away with $772,000. He was convicted and sentenced to 17 years in prison. Meanwhile, Perez's coming and goings--and his astounding number of short cellular phone calls--convinced investigators he was dealing drugs. Following a six-month investigation, he was arrested for stealing eight pounds of cocaine from LAPD evidence lockers. Perez cut a deal for a 12-year prison sentence and talked.
The discovery of these dirty cops became known as the Rampart Scandal, the worst in LAPD history. Perez's confession exposed a group of police officers who engaged in theft, drug dealing, perjury, improper shootings, evidence tampering, false arrests, witness intimidation, and beatings. They cribbed up in bachelor pad apartments for sex parties with hookers. These men were as out of control as the gangs they were supposed to police--in too many cases they were from the gangs they were supposed to police.
More than 30 officers were suspended or fired in the Rampart probe. Hundreds of criminal convictions tainted by links to Rampart cops were overturned. Although it did not receive much attention in the mainstream media, an embarrassing truth was exposed: Many L.A. cops had been corrupted by black gangsters (just as many New York cops were corrupted in another era by the Italian mob). "Rampart wasn't about cops who became gangsters," explained former LAPD deputy chief Downing. "It was about gangsters who became cops."
How did city officials react to this painful lesson? By paying $70 million in settlements. By doing nothing about the P.C. race rules that opened the floodgates. And by agreeing to a consent decree that turned control of the LAPD over to the Feds. The consent decree drained crucial resources from crime fighting--nearly 350 department supervisors were permanently assigned to reporting on the decree, and tens of thousands of hours were spent by other officers on its mandates.
This was salt in the wounds of a department already hogtied by paperwork. After the Rodney King riots, the Christopher Commission (chaired by Bill Clinton's future Secretary of State) demanded that the LAPD investigate every single civilian complaint against any officer, no matter how frivolous. This required three or four supervisors at each division to spend full time on complaint duty. Department investigators often ended up devoting more days to interviewing witnesses about bogus complaints, and meeting P.C. mandates on domestic violence cases, than to investigating crimes. Motivated by the media-fueled presumption that brutality and racism were "endemic" in the LAPD, Bill Clinton's Justice Department also demanded detailed racial data to see if cops were "racially profiling." Not surprisingly, serious felonies rose dramatically during this period in Los Angeles.
Ignoring root causes
Police Chief Bernard Parks fired more than 100 police officers at about this time, citing a wide range of infractions including unapproved off-duty work as security guards at gangster rap functions. Many believe he was quietly trying to purge the department of cops who had gang associations. But officially, the city of Los Angeles never faced up to how it had gotten into this dreadful mess.
One indication is the $250,000 payment to the family of gangster-cop Kevin Gaines that city fathers quietly agreed to in 1999. Race-baiting attorney Johnny Cochran had sued the city for $100 million, accusing Frank Lyga of being an out-of-control white racist officer. The backroom deal, brokered by city attorney James Hahn (now L.A.'s mayor), and approved by Chief Parks (who ran for mayor in 2005), was deliberately shielded from the public and the L.A. City Council.
Lyga's shooting of Gaines had been found justifiable by three board panels. The Police Commission ruled that he acted in self-defense. Yet the city paid off Johnny Cochran to bury the evidence that his client was part of a cancerous knot of minority cops hurriedly introduced into the force without adequate screening, and left there even after evidence accumulated that they were not law-abiding citizens themselves. The city hung Detective Lyga out to dry.
Poole believes that had natural leads been followed, the Rampart miscreants and other incompetent or corrupt officers could have been exposed at least a year before Rafael Perez spilled his guts. Poole had alerted Chief Parks--an African American brought in to generate racial amity after the Rodney King riots--that Rampart Division was out of control, but he was told to limit his investigations. Poole was so distraught, he resigned. "I left because the department literally wanted me to lie and keep things from the D.A.'s office. They knew the seriousness of what was going on, but they did not want to pursue it aggressively. They just wanted to let it go." It was all too embarassing to liberal pieties.
After Rampart blew up, hundreds of experts eventually produced three major reports on the scandal. Each concluded that department standards had been lowered. "But not a single one dealt with the core problem," says Steve Downing. "Where did all these crooked cops come from? How did they ever get hired in the first place? That's the question nobody will address." Because it is politically incorrect.
The core problem behind L.A.'s Rampart, and similar corruption and competence scandals in other police departments, was that politicians insisted on forcing racial minorities into police ranks no matter what. Even now, years after the sour fruits of such efforts have been exposed, elected officials refuse to state out loud the obvious: Institutionalized practice of reverse racial discrimination "allowed persons of poor character to be hired," as Downing summarizes.
At one time in the late 1990s, as many as 25 black police officers in the Los Angeles Police Department were believed to have direct ties to the criminal gangs they were supposed to be stamping out. The problem extended to other police departments in the area as well, including Hawthorne, Inglewood, Compton, and the L.A. County sheriffs. "This is not an LAPD problem," stated one top LAPD official during the Rampart scandal. "This is a black problem."
The local and national press were no braver than the politicians at facing this issue. Despite a supertanker of ink spilled on Rampart stories, no reporters or editors had the stomach to address its causes. Only a few radio hosts broached the truth voiced by virtually every L.A. cop. "The corruption of affirmative action," states Steve Downing, "has been treated as if it never occurred."
The racial no-fly zone
For the past 25 years, Los Angeles has been like Russia under Krushchev: Everybody knows the truth, but nobody dares to speak it. Much as Pravda ignored Moscow meat and bread shortages, the Los Angeles Times has adamantly refused to report on the damage caused by racial demogoguery and quotas. No one dares challenge the party line lest he be punished. "Don't ask me to go there," a city official once told me. "I have a family, a mortgage, a car, and a dog, and I have to work in this city."
Late last year, the Times finally ran a four-part expos� on Martin Luther King Hospital in south Los Angeles. A team of reporters spent a year examining the scandalous number of unexplained deaths and administrative peculiarities that led to the closure of the hospital's trauma center and the loss of its national accreditation. One of the conclusions of the series was that the hospital, which may be forced to close completely, had avoided normal scrutiny for the past 30 years due to racial politics. "Why Supervisors Let Deadly Problems Slide," read one headline. "Fearful of provoking black protests, they shied away from imposing tough remedies on inept administrators," read the subhead.
For three decades, nobody would speak the truth about MLK Hospital. The Times celebrated with champagne when its series won a Pulitzer in April--but the paper could have prevented the tragedy by writing two decades earlier. Everybody knew MLK was substandard, that's why folks in South Central dubbed it "Killer King." Alternative publications wrote about it, but the Times and network TV wouldn't touch it. Their refusal to hold incompetent blacks accountable allowed the disaster to compound.
Politically correct reporting on the LAPD has had even more tragic consequences. The media have not only failed to acknowledge the corruption of affirmative action, they have leapt at every opportunity to brand the LAPD as racist, undercutting many dedicated officers, and deeply corroding the force's ability to battle crime.
The tragedy that took place this February 6 is the latest example. A little before 4 a.m., two officers in an LAPD patrol car saw a Toyota Camry run a red light. When they tried to pull the car over, the driver took off. After a high speed chase lasting several minutes, the car left the road and slid to a halt. Disregarding commands to leave the vehicle, the driver then backed up directly at officer Steve Garcia as he exited the squad car's passenger door. In fear for his life, Garcia shot several times as the Toyota smashed into his cruiser.
The car was found to be stolen. The driver--who died from gunshot wounds--turned out to be a black 13-year-old named Devin Brown. Neighbors reported that the teenager had become involved with the local Van Ness Bloods gang, and police stated that he had been at a gang gathering prior to this incident. The media described Brown as unarmed, ignoring how lethal a car can be when used as a weapon.
A mob of politicians and race activists, including inflammatory Congresswoman Maxine Waters, immediately condemned the act as yet another example of LAPD racism. Crowds gathered at the scene chanting "No Justice, No Peace," and waving placards that read "LAPD = KKK" and "Kill The Pigs."
"Children tend to be mischievous," one woman complained at a subsequent protest, "but they shouldn't have to die.... Children do stuff like that all the time." To which an L.A. police officer writing in National Review Online answered, "Children? Mischievous? Devin Brown, God rest his soul, was not out toilet-papering the gym teacher's house. He committed at least three felonies, crimes which might have resulted in the death of a police officer, his own passenger, or some innocent bystander." This same officer later noted that more than 20 U.S. police
officers have been killed over the last five years by suspects deliberately running them over with cars.
Before the investigation into this event even got serious, Mayor James Hahn convinced the L.A. Police Commission to change regulations. A new policy now prohibits officers from firing into moving vehicles. In one more little way, the police have been hamstrung by the racialized fallout of a sad criminal incident.
A presumption of prejudice
Ever since the Watts riots of 1964, the media have pandered to the presumption of prejudice in the LAPD. Black Los Angeleno Eulia Love was shot and killed in 1979 by two cops. One of the officers was black, one Hispanic-Native American, yet they were both vilified as racists. Today, whenever the L.A. media refer to this incident they invariably report that Ms. Love was killed over a $20 gas bill. They always fail to mention that she attacked the gasman with a shovel, or that the hysterical, mentally deranged, foaming at the mouth Ms. Love threw a knife at the officers who responded to his complaint. Race had nothing to do with the tragic demise of Eulia Love, yet thanks to years of politically correct commentary, most Los Angelenos now believe it to be an historic fact that she was a victim of a "racist shooting."
Another notorious case involved Clarence Chance and Benny Powell, two black men who spent 17 years in prison for killing a black L.A. County sheriff. They were freed in 1992--shortly after a spasm of post-Rodney King guilt swept liberal Los Angeles--because it was alleged they had been "framed by the LAPD." The L.A. City Council awarded them $7 million, and the media turned them into international folk heroes, second only to Rodney King himself as symbols of racial injustice in America.
The truth is that Chance and Powell were released due to an expedient and highly symbolic decision by L.A. officials. With Daryl Gates, Mark Fuhrman, and the rest of the LAPD on the roasting spit, nobody dared question claims of an LAPD racist frame-up. It didn't seem to matter that the murder victim was black, or that the eyewitness who identified Chance and Powell was black, or that 17 years later she stuck to her ID.
Upon his release, Benny Powell, now a millionaire, was feted on TV talk shows. He also embarked on a rampage of drugs, rape, beatings, car chases, and shootings. One shootout landed him in the hospital--between two paid speaking engagements. After a brutal day-long cocaine-fueled motel rape of a UCLA student (in which he employed an ax handle as his raping tool), he was finally arrested for good when a witness saw Powell in a field chasing a nude woman with her hands tied behind her as Powell beat her with a stick.
Nobody in the media ever interviewed the UCLA coed except me. I remember her thousand-mile stare, a life ruined, as she explained why she had agreed to go on a road trip with Benny Powell. "I thought he was found innocent," she stated, having read all about Benny Powell in the Los Angeles Times, including what a sad victim and genuine hero he was. Her innocence combined with politically correct lies nearly cost her her life.
The Nazi cops myth
The O. J. Simpson verdict just two years later, which ended with the judgment that O. J. had been framed, was built on the assumption that LAPD detective Mark Fuhrman was a racist. When I wrote a story for Los Angeles magazine on Fuhrman's former partners, none of them, including blacks and Hispanics, believed he was racist. One black female cop who had only praise for Fuhrman begged me not to quote her because, she explained, "it would ruin my career and my life." The Oscar Joel Bryant Association, the LAPD's black officers group, would blackball her. Her kids would come home from school crying that she was an Aunt Thomasina.
In another feature I wrote for the same magazine, about L.A. cops who retired to Idaho, I brushed up against the virulent anti-cop bias of many reporters, which helped form the mindset of the O. J. jurors. So many L.A. cops retire near Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, that they have an annual retired-LAPD barbecue there. Police officers move there for affordable housing, and because it is a hunter's and fisherman's paradise. But that's not what the public was told Mark Fuhrman wanted up there.
The week after Fuhrman moved to Sandpoint, Idaho, the founder of the white supremacist group Aryan Nations, Richard Butler, was quoted from nearby Hayden Lake by every national TV network, wire service, and newspaper. In each interview (a swastika visible over his shoulder), Butler claimed that cops who came to Idaho were racists. The media never questioned the assertion.
I was the only reporter who bothered to fly up to Butler's Hayden Lake "compound" (five small clapboard shacks in the middle of the woods) and ask him about his assertions.
Q: "Mr. Butler, do you know Mark Fuhrman?"
A: "Well, no."
Q: "Have you ever talked to Mark Fuhrman?"
A: "Uh, well, no."
Q: "Has Mark Fuhrman ever visited you?"
Q: "Is Mark Fuhrman a member of your organization?"
Q: "Are any cops members of your organization?"
Richard Butler turned out to be a pathetic, doddering old man. His "followers"--as many as two at any given time--were marginal characters more worthy of pity than fear.
But just before my trip to Idaho, the Sunday New York Times Magazine had run a cover story with a two-page photo of a Hayden Lake cross-burning. Millions of people saw that
picture. What they didn't know was that only five people witnessed the event in person: Richard Butler with his German Shepherd, two of Butler's followers, and the Times photo-grapher and his assistant--for whose benefit the cross had been set aflame in the first place. Mike Feiler, managing editor of the Coeur d'Alene Press, described to me the reporters who had swarmed the area after Fuhrman's arrival: "Every one of them has come in here with marching orders, not to get the truth, but to get the story of white supremacist cops in north Idaho."
The Aryan Nations is a powerless group listened to by nobody. But the Times newspapers of Los Angeles and New York influence millions of people every day. And they rarely pass up an opportunity to lambaste "the racist LAPD" and drive a wedge into the heart of my city.
When diversity trumps truth and justice
Three decades of deplorable coverage of Los Angeles policing--from Rodney King to O. J. to Rampart and now Devin Brown--have left all Americans with a horrific legacy. Today, cops all across the United States battle a foe as destructive as crime itself: the presumption of common prejudice. "You only stopped me because I'm black."
This view has been fanned by a media elite which has made "diversity" its virtual religion. Since the late 1980s, newspapers have mandated diversity management seminars, held multicultural weekend retreats, and hired diversity consultants to remake their newsrooms and reporting guidelines. Editors' salaries are often based on the number of minorities they hire and promote. There are editorial guidelines for racial and ethnic balance in sourcing. Minorities are encouraged to complain about any perceived slights to their particular group, and to challenge the assumptions of "the white male hegemony." At one point the Los Angeles Times put a hiring freeze on white males, and issued highly tendentious style guides to its writers, along with lists of forbidden "insensitive" terms.
Minority journalists regularly circulate petitions demanding that un-P.C. colleagues be chastised or fired. They demand meetings with management to discuss editorial transgressions. The chill that this racial mau-mauing exerts on frank reporting is profound. When someone in the newsroom cries "racism," "sexism," or "homophobia," everyone backs away. Even the most dedicated reporters eventually give up and stop following leads on stories they know will never see print, and could even lead to persecution.
Hence, most of the elite media's sins are now sins of omission--the stories never told. Propaganda, as Orwell said, is in what gets left out. This syndrome extends far beyond reporting on crime and policing. To demonstrate "moral neutrality," terrorists are no longer identified as terrorists at many publications; AIDS is misrepresented as a primarily heterosexual
disease in the West in order to show sensitivity to gays; troubling realities that plague our urban underclass, like illegitimacy, welfare dependency, and criminal behavior, are ignored. These evasions cause problems to be mis- and undiagnosed, and lead to millions of misspent dollars and unnecessary deaths.
But the literal life-and-death risks of political correctness are nowhere more visible than in policing. Blind eyes have been turned to the grave risks created by quota hiring, lowered standards, the fomenting of racialized suspicions in the citizenry, P.C. policies toward aliens and immigrants, draconian restraint of officers in the field, the explosion of complaints and lawsuits that shake down officers with claims of harassment and excessive force.
Meanwhile, police-attackers like Sara Jane Olson are often lionized. In 2001, Olson finally pled guilty to her role in placing a bomb under an LAPD squad car in 1975. But the '60s radical had turned "respectable" Minnesota housewife during her years on the run, and generated sympathy from the left-wing aristocracy as deep as the outrage she inspired from police officers. She became one more focal point for the political forces that have long embraced violent outlaws like the Black Panthers and various criminals and gang members when they become locked in conflicts with law enforcement.
These Sara Janes in policy-making positions, activist organizations, law offices, and newsrooms have wreaked more havoc on civic peace and safe streets than any bomb placed under a squad car. Radicals no longer call for people to "Kill the Pigs," they now bring down whole police departments with procedural coups. They turned "motorist Rodney King" (a violent, intoxicated, out-of-control, fleeing felon) into an international symbol of racial injustice, and the 1992 L.A. riots into a political "uprising." They have assassinated the character of scores of officers, and painted the whole department as racist. They have pandered to the paranoia that "O. J. was framed by the LAPD," and turned the indispensable tool of "criminal profiling" into the unacceptable horror of "racial profiling." They shut down the LAPD's Intelligence Division, making it (among other things) impossible for the city to identify foreign terrorists. They have fostered a view of police officers as bullies and oppressors not to be cooperated with. Collectively, the Sara Janes have made it nearly impossible for the LAPD to suppress gangs, control drugs, arrest criminals, or keep the peace. The result is that many neighborhoods (though not the wealthy ones the Sara Janes live in) are run by hoodlums, and thousands of innocents live in fear.
The victims of political correctness
Los Angeles County averages 1,000 murders every year, two thirds of them carried out by gangs. Most of the victims never make the papers (though every charge of "racial profiling" by an ACLU attorney gets headlines). After the Rampart scandal, L.A.'s anti-gang units were disbanded, leaving the gang-directed narcotics trade virtually unpoliced. During the year that followed, crime increased 10 percent, and the murder rate rose 25 percent, while arrests dropped 25 percent. The best cops fled to jobs at more supportive departments and communities.
By 2001, the LAPD was 884 officers short of full strength. Half the cops on the street suddenly had less than five years experience. The remaining veterans continued to leave in droves; at some divisions, 40 percent of the officers were applying for jobs at other departments. The attrition rate was double the hiring rate. Special units were disbanded or cannibalized just to keep officers on the street.
"We have money to hire officers but we can't get them," explained Dennis Zine of the Los Angeles Police Protective League in 2001. Good candidates "won't go to a police department in turmoil. And the message in the recent verdicts is that Los Angelenos are going to believe the gangbangers. There's a 'hang the cops at the airport' mentality." Zine was so appalled by the city's failed leadership that he ran for city council, and won. "The city leaders were culpable for allowing the LAPD to get into a situation where officers were afraid to do their jobs. And they cost the taxpayers millions. They settled every lawsuit. They rolled over and accepted a consent decree. They wouldn't fight for the department."
Local newspapers suggested officers were leaving because they had suddenly found more convenient schedules, fatter benefits, or better retirement packages at other departments. But the real issues driving cops away, wholly ignored by the media, were racial suspicions, absurd constraints, and the hostile complaint system imposed upon the LAPD by politically correct "reformers."
Any citizen complaint, no matter how petty, was required to be fully investigated, a process that could take as long as a year, stalling promotions, raises, or transfers, and blackening an officer's name. For a while, the LAPD was investigating ten times the number of complaints as most departments. Nearly one third of all LAPD man-hours were spent investigating each other. And the gangbangers knew this. By filing a complaint, they could "jam up" a cop--while simultaneously taking another officer off the streets to investigate the complaint.
In response, the LAPD resorted to a "3-12" work schedule. This allows cops to work three 12-hour shifts while taking the rest of the week off. The mass exodus of officers stopped, but no one asked why "the nation's best police department" needed to give its employees four days off every week (one third of them now hold a second job during that time) to make them stay.
This coincided with the arrival of Bill Bratton as L.A.'s new police chief in 2002. The renowned former Boston and New York City chief knew he had to take emergency measures to stanch the bleeding at the department, and he has. By most accounts, Bratton has pulled the department back from the precipice with a combination of good leadership, smart personnel choices, a return to reasonable discretion in the complaint process (reformers be damned), along with some tireless hand-holding with the black community.
The result has been an 18 percent decline in violent crime from the recent peaks. Bratton has won the respect of citizens and officers alike, achieving an 85 percent vote of confidence among the police rank and file. But the LAPD still has 215 fewer officers than when Bratton arrived. A ballot initiative that would have provided funding for an additional 1,260 officers failed to pass last November--in part due to the anti-police attitudes long fomented among Los Angelenos. "The LAPD is struggling to hold off an inferno of criminal activity," Bratton has said of his undermanned force. "As soon as the department puts out one fire by mustering its scarce resources to respond to a flashpoint of violent crime, the violence jumps to a new location."
Despite Bratton's admirable improvements, the LAPD remains on a knife's edge, one politicized incident away from disaster. How will the media and local citizens react to the next "racial incident"? Has anyone learned anything from the disaster of the last decades?
Cops and Gender P.C.
By Erica Walter
An Atlanta courthouse was recently the scene of slaughter as a six-foot-one former linebacker awaiting trial for rape took the gun from his lone guard, a five-foot, 50-something grandmother. After murdering a judge, a court reporter, and a deputy, Brian Nichols allegedly killed a fourth person before kidnapping Ashley Smith at two o'clock in the morning, taking her back to her apartment, and tying the young woman up in her bathtub.
The story ended with a twist: The murderous chaos the first woman allowed to erupt was ended by the second woman, as Ashley Smith in just a few hours managed to gain the man's trust, and then to change his course from violence to peace. The gunman let Smith go and surrendered to the police around noon.
Almost no press stories dared say much about the politically incorrect aspect of this bloodbath: that a 210-pound man charged with a violent crime, who only a week before had been found with metal shanks hidden in his socks, should not have been guarded by a petite grandmother who had been forced to take remedial firearms training the year before. This and other similar stories confirm that, whether anyone cares to admit it, sex differences remain a powerful fact of life--and when ignored in fields like policing can have deadly repercussions.
Take the Rodney King arrest. When an intoxicated King zoomed past California Highway Patrol officer Melanie Singer, she started a high-speed pursuit. By the time he stopped, several LAPD cops had joined the chase and watched as Singer, not a physically prepossessing woman, approached the large, bizarrely acting King with her gun drawn. This dangerous tack was too much for the LAPD cops, who pulled rank, told Singer to "stand back," and took over the arrest. The most experienced officers on the scene became upset when Singer approached King with her gun drawn. They envisioned bad consequences--either an unarmed suspect needlessly shot (as would apparently happen a few months later in a Washington, D.C. case) or (as we just saw in Atlanta) a large criminal taking a small female cop's gun and inflicting mayhem. Or, one other LAPD cop worried, the criminal may lunge at the woman and cause the less experienced officers at the scene to shoot them both in a desperate attempt to save her.
The Rodney King arrest involves many other issues besides female cops, but in Official Negligence, his definitive history of the case, Washington Post reporter Lou Cannon makes clear that the LAPD veterans were legitimately disturbed at Melanie Singer's actions. King's reaction to the fact that it was a female cop barking orders at him was part of the problem. He was disrespectful and sexual: "He grabbed his butt with both hands and began to shake and gyrate his fanny in a sexually suggestive fashion," Stacey Koon of the LAPD stated. The chain of events that followed led to the 1992 Los Angeles riots that raged for six days, leaving 34 people dead, 1,032 injured, and millions of dollars of property stolen and destroyed.
A smaller but also traumatic incident that occurred in Washington, D.C. a couple of months after King's arrest was perhaps a more representative example of the same problem. In the Mount Pleasant neighborhood, whose population includes many poor Latino immigrants, two Hispanic men were drunk and disorderly, according to the initial police report. As they were being arrested by two female police officers, Girsel Del Valle and her rookie partner Angela Jewell, a third man, Daniel Enrique Gomez, became disorderly. As the officers tried to subdue Gomez, a fourth man began to assault the cops, who by now numbered three women and one man. Gomez was not fully handcuffed; he pulled out a knife and thrust it at Jewell. Drawing her revolver while backing away, she ordered him to drop the knife. He lunged at her, and she shot him.
That is not, however, the way other Latinos who were watching the arrest saw things, and they became angry because they thought the shooting unjustified. Some said that they saw no knife and that the man who was shot had both hands behind his back, although they admitted he was walking toward Jewell and using foul language. Within hours, riots broke out in Mount Pleasant and adjoining neighborhoods and continued through the next two nights, resulting in hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage to cars and businesses.
At trial, the police dropped any claim that Gomez had lunged at Jewell with the knife, and the "fourth man" disappeared from the story. Given these discrepancies and the fierce anger of nearby observers, one may suspect that Gomez, who was drunk and probably using foul language, while approaching Jewell, managed both to offend and frighten her, which led to her shooting him, perhaps unnecessarily.
A veteran detective, who asked to remain anonymous, reports having seen similar problems again and again. He points out that very few men measuring five to five-and-a-half feet tall, 100 to 130 pounds, are hired, yet most female officers fit that description and are in danger of being overpowered by big thugs. (A few years ago, the LAPD, in reaction to pressure from feminist groups, even dropped its requirement that officers be at least five feet tall.) "Most bad guys fall into two categories," reports the detective. "Either they show no respect to female cops because they know they can take them, or they fear female cops because they know the women know they can be taken and will shoot quickly."
He also observes that typical men who become cops "have already been exposed to the fist fights, pushing matches, and other physical contact of the job. They also read other men better--the physical stances, clenching of fists, rolling up on the balls of the feet to get ready to fight." Most male cops, but few female ones, have also played contact sports and had some exposure to firearms. They've bloodied and been bloodied by others. He says male cops, in his experience, are also more likely to enjoy gun practice and physical exercise, and more likely to be experienced and competent at the aggressive high-speed driving sometimes required of officers. Conversely, most of the women couldn't carry a wounded officer to safety, though he adds, "Some would try. It isn't a case of bravery or sacrifice. It's a matter of strength."
None of this means we should denigrate the risks and sacrifices made by women police, or that all male cops are excellent.
Another complicating factor in the Rodney King case was a male officer who wasn't in good physical shape, hadn't mastered his baton, and didn't keep his composure once the fight broke out. That only further illustrates the importance of strength, size, weapons proficiency, and mental toughness.
One study of public safety officers found that the women had only half to two thirds the upper body strength, and half to four fifths the lower body strength of male counterparts. Presumably this explains the finding by AEI economist John Lott, drawing on U.S. Department of Justice statistics, that increasing the number of female officers in a police force by 1 percentage point appears to increase assaults on police by 15 to 19 percent.
Women can be amazingly courageous. Ashley Smith's taming of the Atlanta shooter proves that. At one point the murderer told Smith to follow him in her car while he drove a stolen truck. She could have escaped then, but didn't because she feared if she did, he would kill more people.
But when the murderer put his guns down in her apartment, Smith didn't grab them and try to overpower him, tough-guy style. Instead of using the classic masculine virtues, she used the classic feminine ones. She listened to him, cooked him breakfast, opened up her heart and persuaded him to open up his.
She encouraged him by telling him she had faith in his ability to make amends for the wrongs he'd committed, and she urged him to improve his life. The hope Smith held out for him was not that some judge would let him off, but that once he was in prison he could share the Christian faith he and Smith had in common, with other inmates. It was Smith's "gentle" virtues--and perhaps that they were displayed by a woman--that made this violent man willing to drop his guard and act right.
These same virtues are why women are often excellent police officers outside of the aspects of the job that involve violence and physical confrontation. As policing expert and former TAE editor Eli Lehrer points out:
Policing is fundamentally a helping profession, and the non-violent parts of the job involve talking with people and human relations--things that women are generally better at than men. For some crimes, like domestic violence, women are better at dealing with it in almost all cases. Women also do a better job building cases based on detailed evidence, like solving car break-ins. Male cops are perpetrators in 95 percent of police bribery cases. They're not as good at report writing (the key to getting bad guys locked up). Good departments, therefore, need both male and female officers.
The key, then, is for police forces to respect the reality that male and female officers are not interchangeable. The real-world results of pretending are ugly. They can be seen on the Atlanta videotape showing Brian Nichols smashing a grandmother's head on the courthouse floor, sending her to the hospital in critical condition before he sends four more victims to the morgue.
Our refusal to acknowledge differences between men and women, and the ways those differences affect our social interactions, can be called many things. Just don't call it progress for women.
Erica Walter is a mother and writer in Alexandria, Virginia.