Pubdate: Sun, 26 Nov 2000
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2000 Los Angeles Times
Contact:  Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053
Fax: (213) 237-7679
Author: Joseph D. Mcnamara
Note: Joseph D. Mcnamara, Retired Police Chief of San Jose


STANFORD - There is a difference between cop-bashing and constructive
criticism. As San Jose police chief, I often criticized the macho
military-style police culture of the Los Angeles Police Department
while arguing instead for a community style of policing that got tough
on crime by forming partnerships with neighborhood groups. Under that
style, we were able to break up gangs and arrest many criminals who
were ruining the quality of life for innocent people and their children.

Although I remain critical of the LAPD culture, my heart goes out to
the overwhelming majority of its officers who do their jobs
professionally. I wore the uniform of the New York City Police
Department for the first half of my 35-year career and remember a
number of times the embarrassment and anger I felt when citizens
looked at me, wondering if I was as guilty as the criminal cops making

It hurt all the more because, like other cops, I was risking my life
on behalf of some of the very people calling me a criminal.

In Los Angeles, the blame for the results of an errant view of how to
police a city in a free society falls more on past political and
police leaders than it does on rank and file officers.

It's easy for people to forget that we ask officers to do things from
which citizens shrink.

We ask them to put themselves in harm's way. To step between
threatening, violent people and us. We ask the police to take care of
the bloody assaults and gory accidents and other human tragedies that
we do not wish to see.

But we expect cops to avoid cynicism.

They must be able to switch in seconds from friendly public servants
to shooting it out with armed robbers. Who could not be filled with
awe watching the 1997 TV coverage of the courageous, outgunned LAPD
officers rushing in and risking their lives against murderous bank
robbers wearing body armor and armed with military weapons in North

Understandably, police suicides, mental breakdowns, divorces, and
other indices of job stress greatly exceed those of many other

The LAPD has received unrelenting criticism since Rodney G. King. The
department, once the proud symbol of reform and integrity for the
nation, has been analyzed and criticized until its reputation has sunk
to the level of the "Eastern" agencies it sneered at. Although it was
never as pure as its "Dragnet" image, the LAPD was the early model for
police reform in the U.S.

The theory was that by making the police independent, and removing the
department from the influence of City Hall politics, an honest,
professional force could be developed.

The LAPD developed a self-image of a tough, corruption free,
crime-fighting machine.

Poor performance during the Watts' riots in 1965 was the first visible
sign of the costs incurred when police see themselves as an aloof,
military-type force.

It was a police force that L.A.-cop-turned-novelist Joseph Wambaugh
would describe as "New Centurions," soldiers who preserved
civilization by keeping the barbarians under control, as opposed to
civil servants charged with protecting life and property.

The independence and tenure granted the police chief under the City
Charter enabled the LAPD to avoid many of the reforms forced upon
other U.S. police agencies by the civil rights movement.

Out of his hearing during a police conference, one chief observed that
Bernard C. Parks would have a good "honeymoon" period; former Chiefs
Daryl F. Gates and Willie L. Williams were easy acts to follow.

Actually, years of poor leadership had left the department with many

To the dismay of LAPD cops, just about everyone has weighed in with
solutions, including the mayor, the mayoral candidates, the City
Council, some of the county Board of Supervisors, the police
commission, the department's inspector general, the police union, a
number of commissions, the ACLU and various community groups.

Most ominous of all, the U.S. Department of Justice, which is totally
unaccountable to the local citizens or indeed to any citizens, has
bludgeoned the city--under threat of a costly prolonged lawsuit--into
signing a consent degree.

The decree, drawn up by bureaucratic lawyers, who don't know the
difference between a felony in progress to a prowler call, will not
change the police culture, but will impose even more confusion and red

This is the same Justice Department blamed for the Waco and Ruby Ridge

Furthermore, the Justice Department's agencies--the FBI, the DEA and
the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms--have no experience in
local policing.

In Los Angeles, reform of the LAPD will require the cooling of
passions and good faith cooperation among the players.

It is especially important to involve the rank and file in the

When I took over the San Jose Police Department, I replaced a chief
who had been fired.

The department was called the "the little LAPD," and it was not a
compliment. It took years to dispel the mistrust between the officers
and public.

The process has to begin with communication between beat officers,
their sergeants and community groups.

The police chief and brass cannot impose a value system by military
discipline, but they can help shape a climate in which the cops and
citizens come to know, respect and work together.

The rank and file and the brass must stop denying that the code of
silence exists and that the problems are caused by a few rotten apples.

For six years, I've been doing research for a book on gangster cops
like Rafael Perez, the key figure in the Rampart case. Few large
cities are without them, and their predatory crimes motivated by vast
sums of money from the illegal drug trade have often remained
undiscovered or go unpunished because local departments hesitate to
vigorously investigate and risk scandal.

In L.A. and elsewhere, many honest officers who try to report
dishonesty face retaliation. Whistle-blowers are vulnerable to
attacks not only from their peers, but also from their own
commanders. Rank and file officers have to be not only encouraged
when they report the crimes of their colleagues, they should be
rewarded. When this happens public trust will be regained, and the
cops can do a better job.

Joseph D. Mcnamara, Retired Police Chief of San Jose, Is a Research
Fellow at the Hoover Institution. His Forthcoming Book Is "Gangster
Cops: the Hidden Cost of America's War on Drugs."
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MAP posted-by: Derek