LAPD Strives to Improve Image
Problems Persist, but Minority Recruits Transforming Force

audio icon Listen to a report by NPR's Mandalit Del Barco.

April 28, 2002 -- The intersection of Florence and Normandie in South Central Los Angeles was the epicenter of the 1992 riots. It was there that white truck driver Reginald Denny was pulled from his truck and severely beaten. The Los Angeles Police Department, already labeled brutal and corrupt, took more heat during the riots for failing to respond to the violence like that at Florence and Normandie.

One Adam-12

Things have changed since Reed and Malloy's time.
Photo: Mandalit Del Barco

Today, the intersection is calm, and while the LAPD's reputation is far from pristine, things have improved over the past decade, as NPR's Mandalit Del Barco reports.

One part of the effort to clean up the LAPD's image has been to diversify the makeup of the force itself. A few weeks ago, the newest police officers graduated from the academy. Nearly half the 54 recruits were Latino. Four were Asian-American. Five were women. And while there was only one African American in the group, white recruits were in the minority.

Indeed, non-whites are the majority of the LAPD nowadays. They make up 55 percent of the force. Nearly a fifth of the force is made up of women. It's the ranks of Latinos that have grown the most over the past decade -- they now make up 47 percent of the force.

Part of the impetus for the changes is a federally mandated consent decree to reform the department -- to prevent incidents of excessive use of force and false arrests.

Outgoing police chief Bernard Parks told the recruits that "there's no tolerance in this department for discrimination or bias. Also, there's no tolerance for lack of integrity or credibility."

Florence and Normandie

Florence and Normandie today: business as usual.
Photo: Mandalit Del Barco

Given that Parks is stepping down after dealing with political fights over his management style, and that the LAPD has recently gone through one of its worst-ever corruption scandals, there is obviously still much work to be done. Gang violence is up, and violent crime in general is up, but arrests are down. The department is 1,100 officers short. Still, there's no denying that the department's image has improved.

Just ask Raymond Morgan, 25 and Darnell Smith, 19. Sitting in their car near Florence and Normandie, Morgan and Smith say they have no problems with the police: "Hey, they gotta do their job," Morgan says.

Journalist Joe Dominick, who covered the riots in that very spot in 1992, can't believe his ears. "Ten years ago, if I was talking to guys your age, most of them would tell me they really hated the cops," he tells them.

"I used to hate the police too," says Morgan. "But I've come to the reality where I just do my thing every day. And like I say, they're out there risking their lives, you know."

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Additional Resources

more iconListen as police recruits learn -- with limited success -- to yell orders in Spanish.

more iconNPR's Mandalit Del Barco reports that after a lull in the late 1990s, gang violence is on the rise in the streets of Los Angeles.

more iconNPR host Tavis Smiley speaks with commentator Connie Rice about the role of the Los Angeles Police Department during the riots.

more iconTavis Smiley and correspondent Karen Grigsby Bates discuss the decision ealier this month by the Los Angeles Police Commission not to renew the contract of Police Chief Bernard Parks.

more iconNPR's Ina Jaffe reported in November of 2000 on the grim conclusions of a study of the scandal surrounding the Ramparts anti-gang unit of the LAPD.