Law Enforcement - The Thin Thread


"As the patriots of seventy-six did to the support of the Declaration of Independence, so to the support of the Constitution and laws let every American pledge his life, his property, and his sacred honor - let every man remember that to violate the law is to trample on the blood of his father and to tear the charter of his own children's liberty. Let reverence for the laws ... become the political religion of the nation; and let the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the grave and the gay of all sexes and tongues and colors and conditions, sacrifice unceasingly upon its altars."
      Abraham Lincoln, January 27, 1837

Maintenance of law and order is a prerequisite to the enjoyment of freedom in our society. Law enforcement is a critical responsibility of governmrnt, and effective enforcement requires mutual respect and understanding between a law enforcement agency and the residents of the community which it serves.

The Problem Deep and Serious

The conduct of law enforcement agencies, most particularly the Los Angeles Police Department, has been subject to severe criticism by many Negroes who have appeared before the Commission as witnesses. The bitter criticism we have heard evidences a deep and longstanding schism between a substantial portion of the Negro community and the Police Department. "Police brutality" has been the recurring charge. One witness after another has recounted instances in which, in their opinion, the police have used excessive force or have been disrespectful and abusive in their language or manner.*

* The more than seventy cases of alleged police brutality which were submitted to the Commission contributed to our understanding of the depths of the feelings of a segment of the Negro community toward the Police Department. Because our responsibility has been to review the general policy and procedure for handling citizen complaints rather than to review individual cases, we have referred all of the cases to the appropriate and responsible agencies.

On the other hand, the police have explained to us the extent to which the conduct of some Negroes when apprehended has required the use of force in making arrests. Example after example has been recited of arrestees, both men and women, becoming violent, struggling to resist arrest, and thus requiring removal by physical force. Other actions, each provocative to the police and each requiring more than normal action by the police in order to make an arrest or to perform other duties, have been described to us.

Chief of Police Parker appears to be the focal point of the criticism within the Negro community. He is a man distrusted by most Negroes and they carefully analyze for possible anti-Negro meaning almost every action he takes and every statement he makes. Many Negroes feel that he carries a deep hatred of the Negro community. However, Chief Parker's statements to us and collateral evidence such as his record of fairness to Negro officers are inconsistent with his having such an attitude. Despite the depth of the feeling against Chief Parker expressed to us by so many witnesses, he is recognized, even by many of his most vocal critics, as a capable Chief who directs an efficient police force that serves well this entire community.

With respect to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, the situation is somewhat different. Generally speaking, the Negro community does not harbor the same angry feeling toward the Sheriff or his staff as it does toward the Los Angeles police. Nevertheless, witnesses recited to us instances of alleged brutality and excessive use of force by deputy sheriffs on duty.

The reasons for the feeling that law enforcement officers are the enemy of the Negro are manifold and it is well to reflect on them before they are accepted. An examination of seven riots in northern cities of the United States in 1964 reveals that each one was started over a police incident, just as the Los Angeles riot started with the arrest of Marquette Frye. In each of the 1964 riots, "police brutality" was an issue, as it was here, and, indeed, as it has been in riots and insurrections elsewhere in the world. The fact that this charge is repeatedly made must not go unnoticed, for there is a real danger that persistent criticism will reduce and perhaps destroy the effectiveness of law enforcement.

Our society is held together by respect for law. A group of officers who represent a tiny fraction of one percent of the population is the thin thread that enforces observance of law by those few who would do otherwise. If police authority is destroyed, if their effectiveness is impaired, and if their determination to use the authority vested in them to preserve a law abiding community is frustrated, all of society will suffer because groups would feel free to disobey the law and inevitably their number would increase. Chaos might easily result. So, while we must examine carefully the claim of police brutality and must see that justice is done to all groups within our society, we must, at the same time, be sure that law enforcement agencies, upon which so much depends, are not rendered impotent.

Solution is Possible - But Action by Both Police and the Negro Community is Essential

Much can be done to correct the existing impressions and to promote an understanding between the police and the Negro community, and this, we believe, is essential in the interest of crime prevention. The steps that have been taken appear to us to be insufficient. Further action is indicated.

Basically, on the one hand, we call for a better understanding by the law enforcement agencies of Negro community attitudes and, on the other hand, a more widespread understanding within the Negro community of the value of the police and the extent to which the law enforcement agencies provide it with security. Although the criminal element among the Negroes is only a small fraction of the Negro population, over half of all crimes of violence committed in the City of Los Angeles are committed by Negroes, and the great majority of the victims of these crimes are Negroes. Thus, the police, in their effort to suppress crime, are doing so to protect the entire community, including the Negro community.

The Board of Police Commissioners - Strengthening is Needed

The Board of Police Commissioners, as the civilian head of the Police Department, has a great responsibility. It is charged with establishing policies for the Department, supervising and managing the Department, and seeing to it that its policies are followed. In discharging its duties, the Board should have a major role in the improvement and maintenance of police-community relationships. In addition, the Board has extensive responsibilities for the issuance and revocation of permits for carrying on a large number of businesses.

The Commission believes that this Board, meeting one afternoon a week, with compensation of the members of the Board at $10.00 per meeting, cannot and does not exercise the control and direction of the Police Department which is prescribed by the City Charter. It is significant to us that the Board and its actions have not been drawn into the recent criticisms of police conduct in the predominantly Negro areas of the city. Almost without exception, the complaints that we have heard have been directed against Chief Parker and the police officers. No one, not a single witness, has criticized the Board for the conduct of the police, although the Board is the final authority in such matters. We interpret this as evidence that the Board of Police Commissioners is not visibly exercising the authority over the Department vested in it by the City Charter. Our own investigation and evaluation, and the testimony of witnesses, confirm this.

Therefore, we urge that steps be taken immediately to arm the Board of Police Commissioners with all necessary tools to discharge its City Charter responsibilities. This will mean increased compensation for the Commissioners, more frequent meetings of the Board, a larger staff, and a revision of procedures that have been followed in the past. A Board, shouldering the responsibilities envisaged here, must be composed of capable and dedicated men, chosen by the Mayor and confirmed by the City Council, willing to devote the necessary time and thoughtful effort to the task.

Complaint Procedures - A New Approach to an Old Problem

A strained relationship such as we have observed as existing between the police and the Negro community can be relieved only if the citizen knows that he will be fairly and properly treated, that his complaints of police misconduct will be heard and investigated, and that, if justified, disciplinary action will be taken against the offending officer.

Under the present Police Department procedure, citizen complaints are received by the Police Department or by the Board of Police Commissioners. All investigations of citizen complaints, whereever received, are conducted under the overall supervision of the Internal Affairs Division of the Police Department. In the vast majority of cases, primary responsibility for investigating allegations of officer misconduct has in the past been placed with the division commander of the individual officer involved. After the investigation has been completed, the determination whether a complaint should be sustained is made either by the Chief of Police or by the Board of Police Commissioners, depending upon where the complaint was originally filed. Where a complaint is sustained, responsibility for discipline is vested in the Chief of Police and the Board of Rights, which provides a departmental hearing to an accused officer before serious sanctions can be imposed.

The Commission has concluded that there are several deficiencies in this existing procedure. We believe that division commanders and those in the command structure should not conduct investigations of complaints with respect to their own subordinate officers. Moreover, existing procedures are not sufficiently visible to or understood by the public. Finally, we do not think there should be a difference, as there now is, in the handling of a complaint depending solely upon whether it was filed with the Board or the Police Department.

Under the existing procedure, the impression is widespread that complaints by civilians go unnoticed, that police officers are free to conduct themselves as they will, and that the manner in which they handle the public is of little concern to the higher authorities. This impression is not consistent with fact. Departmental policies set high standards of conduct for police officers in their contacts with citizens, and these standards are conscientiously enforced. In 1964, 412 complaints of police misconduct were received from citizens. Forty-two complaints alleging police misconduct in contacts with citizens were sustained.* Despite these facts, the impression that citizen complaints are ignored continues because of deficiencies in the existing procedure. Thus, the clamor is raised from many sources for an independent civilian review board.

* Of the 42 complaints which were sustained, 10 were for alleged excessive force, 23 were for alleged discourtesy or profanity, and nine alleged unlawful arrest or unreasonable search. In 1964, 470 officers, approximately 10% of the police force, were assessed disciplinary penalties of some type.

The Commission feels that a civilian review board, authorized to investigate, and perhaps to decide, complaints, but with no other law enforcement responsibilities, would endanger the effectiveness of law enforcement, which would be intolerable at a time when crime is on the increase throughout the country. Experience in two cities which have such boards - and in which alleged misconduct of police officers was a major issue in connection in 1964 - has not demonstrated the advantages of such a review board. From our observations and from testimony Of knowledgeable law enforcement administrators, we are persuaded that the value of an independent board would not Outweigh the likely deleterious effects on law enforcement. We, therefore, propose improvements in the existing procedure which will go far toward establishing the widest possible confidence in the handling of all complaints but which will not destroy the authority vested by the City Charter in the Board of Police Commissioners and the Chief of Police.

To insure independent investigation of complaints, we recommend that an "Inspector General" should be established in the Police Department, under the authority of the Chief of Police but outside the chain of command. Properly staffed with sworn officers and civilian personnel, the Inspector General would perform the functions of the present Internal Affairs Division and would be responsible for making investigations and recommendations on all citizen complaints, whether filed with the Board or the Department. An adequate hearing process for the complainant should be made available at some point in the procedure, and he should be informed of the action taken on his complaint. The "Inspector General" concept has proved, through years of experience, to be effective in the four military services, each of which has such an independent and objective agency under the Chief of Staff of the service. The Inspector General's investigations can be visible to the public. He would report to the Chief of Police, and his findings and recommendations on all complaints would be the basis for the Chief's report to the Board on all such complaints. The Board would act on all complaints as it now acts on some complaints initially presented to it; that is, it would pass on whether the complaint is or is not sustained. Under the procedure suggested here, responsibility for discipline would remain with the Chief of Police and the Board of Rights as provided by the City Charter.

These improvements, we believe, would provide a satisfactory procedure for processing citizen complaints both from the viewpoint of the Los Angeles Police Department and the community. We have focused our discussion on the existing procedure in the Police Department. We encourage the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department to adopt those aspects of our conclusions which may be applicable to its procedures for handling citizen complaints.

Community-Police Relations - A Responsibility for Crime Prevention

In 1963, the Los Angeles Police Department issued an excellent statement of the need for and purpose of a community relations program. The order stated:

"The mutual advantages of a friendly relationship between the people of a community and their police force should be widely understood and more fully appreciated. The success of a police force in the performance of its duties is largely measured by the degree of support and cooperation it receives from the people it serves. It is of paramount importance, therefore, to secure for this department the confidence, respect, and approbation of the public. The cultivation of such desirable attitudes on the part of the public is dependent upon reciprocal attitudes on the part of this department."

Witness after witness, in discussing the question of police-community relations, emphasized the importance of "non-punitive contacts" as basic to the problem. But, from the statements of many witnesses it appears that the steps taken by the Los Angeles Police Department, although commendable, have been faltering. The worthwhile Deputy Auxiliary Police program, which was designed to bring youth into closer contact with police organizations, has been permitted to lapse and pass out of existence. The staff assigned to community relations activities is not large enough, and the range of community relations activities has been limited.

Moreover, little has been done in recent years to encourage the Negro youth's support of the police, or to implant in the youth's mind the true value of the Police Department with respect to the welfare of the youth. Productive programs can and must be developed in Los Angeles, as they have been developed elsewhere.

We commend the Board of Police Commissioners and the Chief of Police for the community relations activities which the Department has undertaken in 1965. These have included the appointment of a Coordinator of Community Relations Activity and a Community-Police Relations Advisory Committee, and an increase in the staff of the community relations unit. Visitation programs to elementary schools and command level seminars on community relations have also been useful steps. But, we believe, a greater effort is indicated.

We propose more intensive in-service human relations training programs for officer personnel; youth programs such as the Deputy Auxiliary Police program; periodic open forums and workshops in which the police and residents of the minority communities will engage in discussions of law enforcement; and frequent contact between the police and the students in junior and senior high schools.

Such programs are a basic responsibility of the Police Department. They serve to prevent crime, and, in the opinion of this Commission, crime prevention is a responsibility of the Police Department, equal in importance to law enforcement.

Programs of this nature, and the underlying philosophies that support them, can only be initiated through determined leadership at the top. If these actions are pursued energetically, we can expect a gratifying improvement in the relationship between the police and the community. Successful implementation of these programs will require additional personnel and funds and we believe that the City Council should authorize both without delay.

Again, while we have focused our discussion on the Police Department, we encourage the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department to introduce community relations activities of the character we have recommended for the Police Department.

More Negroes and Mexican-Americans Must Enter Careers in Law Enforcement

Finally, the Commission expresses its concern over the relatively few sworn officer personnel in the Police Department and the Sheriff's Department who are Negroes or Mexican-Americans. Only four percent of the sworn personnel of the Police Department and six percent of the Sheriff's Department are Negroes and an even smaller percentage are Mexican-American. Both of these departments recruit their personnel through the civil service agencies and selections are made on a basis of qualifications without regard for race, religion, or national origin. Despite efforts by the civil service agencies, the law enforcement departments, and some elected officials to encourage Negroes and Mexican-Americans to enter the law enforcement field, the results have been unsatisfactory.

We believe it essential that the number of sworn officers of each minority group should be increased substantially. To bring this about, more active recruitment by the Police and Sheriff's Departments and the civil service must be undertaken. Furthermore, educational and private institutions and organizations, and political leaders as well, should encourage members of the minority groups to enter careers in law enforcement. Finally, budget support for extensive efforts in recruitment, which should perhaps include pre-employment preparatory training, should be provided by both the City Council and the Board of Supervisors.

To implement our conclusions, we offer the following recommendations:

1) The Board of Police Commissioners should be strengthened.

2) Investigations of all citizen complaints should be conducted by an independent Inspector General under the authority of the Chief of Police in the implementation of procedures established by the Board of Police Commissioners.

3) The Police Department should institute expanded community relations programs.

4) The Sheriffs Department should effectuate these recommendations to the extent that they are applicable to it.


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