LAPD Chief Charlie Beck calls April 29, 1992, a day of crisis in leadership at the department, which was criticized for its slow response at the flashpoint of the riots.
“L.A. was a place without law,” said Beck, who was an LAPD Sergeant in 1992 and unable to make any key decisions.
“The police department should have responded with all the resources it had available to Florence and Normandie and not abandon that intersection, and let it become a flashpoint,” he said.
Beck said there was a huge sense of frustration over the lack of response, leading the city to destruction.
That sense of frustration echoes two decades later.
“The LAPD decided not to attend a riot it co-created,” said Connie Rice, civil rights attorney.
So, what’s changed in the last 20 years?
Beck is now in command of a police force with more staff and more support. Two decades ago, there were thousands less police officers, and in 1992, Los Angeles had four times the level of crime.
“You have to have the confidence of the public,” Beck said. “They have to believe that you’re fair, that you’re effective. I don’t think the public thought either of those things about us back then.”
And, many are noticing the difference in the way the department works for L.A.
“Years ago, we were at war with the LAPD,” Rice said. “The vast majority of the community will tell you the LAPD has changed.”
Rice credits the accountability and leadership of former chief William Bratton and Charlie Beck in what she calls a brutal LAPD.
“Would you find 27 cops standing around watching the beating of Rodney King today?” Rice said. “I would say no. A citywide riot sparked by an abusive police force. I don’t see that happening.”
Beck said his goal is for something like what happened 20 years ago, never happens again.
“That my kids never have to feel the way I felt that night watching my police department fall,” he said.