The Underside of One Adam 12: A Review of Blue: The LAPD and the Battle to Redeem American Policing
Blue: The LAPD and the Fight to Redeem American Policing is a study of the historic leadership faults and quasi-military departmental attitudes of the Los Angeles Police Department that eventually led to over a decade of onerous federal oversight. This problematic management style and resulting toxic atmosphere is contrasted with that of William Bratton, whose innovative methods had drastically transformed a crime-ridden New York City to a model of urban order. That success led him to the position of LAPD chief during a critical period for the department. The apparent objective of this book is an attempt to correlate this analysis with law enforcement practices nationwide in a call for progressive reform.
Note: This essay is based on a pre-publication galley provided by Simon & Schuster via NetGalley in consideration for an honest review.
- Print Length: 464 pages
- Publisher: Simon & Schuster
- Publication Date: August 11, 2015
- File Size: 4642 KB
Fictional Portrayals of the LAPD
From Dragnet to Crash
Blue is written around a general timeline that begins in April of 1992 with Los Angeles Riots, sparked by the acquittal of four white officers in the Rodney King beating, and ends in 2010 with the death of former chief Gates and the early days of the administration of present/day chief Charlie Beck. Within this timeline are the activities and influences on events by many people, most particularly former chiefs Willie Williams, Bernard Parks, Bill Bratton and Charlie Beck; mayors Tom Bradley, Richard Riordan and Antonio Villariagosa; activist Connie Rice; former gang members; and Rampart Scandal scoundrel Ray Perez. Outside of the listed timelines, the focus runs from Chief Parker in 1950 to Ferguson in 2014.
Domanick does a good job in covering the local political influences both inside and outside the walls of LAPD headquarters over the quarter century that he has been reporting of the subject. Chiefs Parker and Gates ruled as virtual autocrats. They shaped the organization from top to bottom with scant influence from the mayor’s office or the city’s police commission. Williams came in as an outsider unprepared for the task of controlling a department in turmoil and unaided by those working under him. Parks didn’t fare better. He was a micro-manager who failed to give direction to his commanders. Bratton came in and worked some of the same magic he conjured up during his reign in New York, eventually freeing LAPD from federal oversight. In Bratton’s wake, Beck has supervised a police force more in tune with the varied population that it has sworn to serve and protect. The politicians are still all about politics. The gang problems, racial tensions, and police misconduct issues are being addressed through community policing programs and departmental accountability.
Los Angeles demographics had drastically changed over the years. Immigrants from all over the world have flocked to LA. The diversity of its population is second only to New York City. Thousands upon thousands of indigent illegal immigrants have flooded the city. Poverty brings crime and it stretches the resources of the city and local law enforcement. Add to this that LA is the entertainment capital of the world. The LAPD has been in the public eye. Many of us grew up with the idealized Dragnet and Adam-12. The latest generation is fed with Rampart Scandal inspired entertainment like television’s The Shield, the movies Crash, Faster and Rampart, and the even the video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. The LAPD works under enormous pressures, a fact that needs to be underscored. While it can be argued that the department dug much of the hole it’s in, Domanick is weak on providing the story from the cop’s perspective. He meticulously illustrates all the faults without providing the context the officers were working from. This is why Blue stands out as an analysis of the history of the LAPD but fails as a primer on police reform. He got it half right.
Although Domanick and I are diametrically opposed both politically and philosophically, I appreciate and understand the importance of many issues he raises regarding law enforcement and the need for scrutiny to protect the rights of everyone. I agree, at least to a degree with several of his points:
- · Community policing and outreach are valuable components of law enforcement.
- · He wrote a book that damned California’s Three Strikes law. Zero tolerance and mandatory minimum laws and policies are too often unjust.
- · LAPD failed to move with the times. The stone attitude that punished managers for thinking outside the box and ridiculed officers for being too friendly with the general public eventually came back to bite them in the rear.
- · LAPD’s criteria for identifying gang members was far too broad.
- · The Rampart Scandal was utterly shameful. A unit totally out of control. A permanent black mark. Lack of upper management, mismanagement in the middle, and misfeasance and criminal malfeasance at the street level is beyond my comprehension. It opened the door to real questions of failure at every level.
- · The we-versus-them attitude in L.A., most pronounced in the inner-city, was developed and nurtured from the top. Police officers have a difficult enough time dealing with the worst of humanity without having a negative outlook pushed on them from the beginning.
- · LAPD’s get on your knees with bended back and hands locked behind your head method of stopping and identifying groups of young men in gang neighborhoods seems quite excessive as a regularly accepted policy.
- · Over-emphasis on arrest numbers leads to bad arrests.
- · Bratton’s stop and frisk program accounted for a sharp decrease in crime but raised civil rights questions. A Federal Court judge ruled the practice unconstitutional in 2013 and the decision is being appealed.
A note of the stop methods in Los Angeles and New York: Desperate times call for desperate measures. The crime violent crime rate in the inner cities of NYC. and LA was unacceptable. Gangs and career criminals had taken over the streets. Much as today throughout much of the country the authority of the police was being challenged constantly. Little attention is ever given to the silent victims; the elderly living in fear in their own homes at night and innocent kids afraid to leave their yards if they haven’t already been lured or coaxed into joining gangs. The rights of these and many others were being trampled on every day. The needed action was taken. The issue is in the degree, frequency and duration of the actions. Both agencies have made needless enemies by overkill. As the crime rate goes down and police authority reestablished the use of the street tool should ease up. Tweaking it bit by bit. Losing proven successful methods through court injunction and federal oversight is the result.
Broad Brush and Snarky
The Watts and Rodney King riots, the Rampart Scandal, overt racism, brutality and general neglect of the inner city are among the sins that author Joe Domanick places on the front door of past chiefs, particularly the celebrated icons William Parker and Daryl Gates. Both former chiefs are lambasted without mercy. He goes over the top with his treatment of them as individuals but provides ample evidence to show how their management styles played a large part in the future dishonor and disgrace of the agency.
Few are spared scathing criticism. Domanick's antipathy towards American law enforcement and law enforcers sticks out like a sore thumb. He paints with a broad brush, sometimes getting downright snarky in his generalized comments. Conservative white males are a regular target. He pounds on the theme of "our violent, racist, gun-loving society." He wants to start producing cops who "don’t run around like gung-ho soldiers..." Suburban dwellers are pretty much tagged as being selfish, uncaring and out of touch with the real world.
Ferguson, Missouri is an inner/interstate ring suburb of St Louis, the 19th largest metropolitan area in the country, not exactly the "...Midwestern backwater..." described in the book. I cite this as an example of the author’s ignorance of or indifference for fly-over America. While I respect Domanick's role as an outspoken, muckraking LA journalist, his writing portrays a man who is as insulated and doctrinaire in his sphere as are the worst of the cops he smugly demeans for their fixed attitudes and penchant for cop-world isolation. I think he really thinks he knows how cops think, but I don't think he really does. Say that five times fast.
© 2015 Gary Malmberg