National News

‘This Is Not Your Grandfather’s LAPD’

Posted June 8, 2018 10:00 a.m. EDT

It’s been a long time since Los Angeles was ruled by its Police Department, when its chief was more powerful than the mayor, when its officers were mostly white men who patrolled poor, minority neighborhoods in the style of an occupying military.

Even as police shootings in the city remain stubbornly high, and many poor black and Latino residents, especially young men, still complain about heavy-handed tactics, the force has become gentler in recent times, and its demographics more reflective of the city.

Much of that change can be attributed to the work of Connie Rice, a prominent civil rights lawyer who began suing the LAPD in the late 1980s and in more recent years has worked closely with chiefs to push forward reforms.

Soon a new era will start at the Police Department: This week Mayor Eric Garcetti chose a new chief, Michel Moore, a veteran of the force.

Rice said she was pleased with the choice, although some in the city were disappointed that Garcetti did not tap a Latino for the post.

“I’ve known Chief Moore for a long time,” she said. “I think he’s very, very smart; he’s very effective. And at this point he really does get the change agenda.”

With new leadership coming at the department, The New York Times asked Rice to reflect on the changes she has helped bring in the city, and what she would like to see under the new chief.

“This is not your grandfather’s LAPD, for a number of reasons,” she said. “Number one, the gratuitous racism is gone. You no longer get ‘attaboys’ for using racial epithets, which is what you did in the ‘50s and ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s.

“So you have a culture change. They’ve gone from an openly racist and misogynist subculture that they had, controlling the majority culture, for at least 50 years. Over the last 20 years that is what we have exorcised, after the Rodney King riots.”

Rice said one of the most important changes was the shift in the demographic makeup of the force.

“When I first started suing LAPD it was 70 percent white, military men,” she said. “It’s 60 percent minority now.”

Rice has had a close relationship with the departing chief, Charlie Beck, who replaced reformist William J. Bratton.

“Charlie Beck took the aggressive-reform baton from Bratton and he ran a fantastic leg,” she said. “Because of Charlie Beck we now have what we call partnership policing.

“They are the only cops in a major city who get promoted not for making arrests but for demonstrating how they kept a kid out of the prison pipeline.”

Looking forward, she said, there was still “a long way to go.”

“Abuse of force is still something we’re trying to get recalibrated, so that there isn’t hair-trigger shootings,” Rice said. “So you don’t get those videos of shootings of unarmed people.”