Study: LAPD “Capable of Improving”

The LAPD emerged from the Rodney King and Rampart corruption scandals of the '90s more racially sensitive and an effective force in cutting crime, according to a study released Monday by the Harvard Kennedy School.

Police Chief William Bratton and other LAPD officials hope to use the report next month to convince a federal judge to end the consent decree under which the department has operated since 2001.

The 68-page report was based on a review of Los Angeles Police Department data, phone surveys with residents, interviews with officers and arrestees, a review of previous surveys completed between 1998 and 2007 and in-person observations by the study's authors.

"We're talking about a department that's been able to reduce crime, increase satisfaction with the community while increasing law enforcement activity," said Christopher Stone, a professor of criminal justice at Harvard University. "It's a remarkable combination."

The strides made by the LAPD are partially the result of good leadership and strong governance, Stone said.

"This is not a story of a police department that's done improving. This is a story about a police department that is capable of improving -- has done and can keep doing it," Stone said.

The study looked at the quality and quantity of police work by reviewing traffic and pedestrian stops, arrests and filing rates.

In 2002, Los Angeles officers completed 587,200 pedestrian and motor vehicle stops. Six years later, that number increased to 875,204, and the number of stops per officer increased from 64 to 89, according to the study.

"Between 2002 and 2008, the likelihood of arrest nearly doubled for both pedestrian and motor vehicles stops ... Residents stopped by police officers in Los Angeles today are less likely to be ticketed and more likely to be arrested than in the early years of the consent decree," according to the study.

Because the number of felonies filed in connection with those arrests has increased, researchers concluded that the quality of arrests has improved.

Since 2004, the use of force -- firearms, chokeholds, head strikes -- has declined overall with the number of incidents per 10,000 arrests falling from 8.1 to 6.2 in 2008.

Despite those declines, African-Americans and Latinos remain disproportionately impacted. African-Americans represent 22 percent of all individuals stopped by the LAPD, but are 31 percent of arrested suspects and 42 percent of people who report an injury from a baton strike, kick, stun gun or takedown.

"While we do not question appropriateness of the use of force itself revealed in these figures, the need to use force is often the result of discretionary, tactical decisions made minutes and sometimes hours before the use of force itself," the authors wrote in the study. "The department is focusing today on improving the tactics that lead to the use of force and these figures underscore the importance of that effort."

The makeup of the police force also has changed under the consent decree, researchers found. In June 1998, there were 9,637 sworn members of the department. Today, there are about 9,900 and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is pushing for the Los Angeles City Council to continue funding a plan that would bring the LAPD to 10,181 -- an increase of 1,000 from when he took office in 2005.

In 1990, 45 percent of recruits graduating from the Police Academy were white, 30 percent were Latino, 19 percent were African-American and 5 percent were Asian. Last year, 53 percent of graduates were Latino, 29 percent were white, 11 percent were Asian and 7 percent were African-American.

Researchers found, however, that police officers routinely complained that recruitment standards fell in the 1990s. One officer said "the hiring process is all politics," according to the report.

Survey results suggest that that sentiment has slightly improved. A 1997 survey of officers found 35 percent agreed with the statement that "the department hires qualified people." Today, that number has increased to 46 percent.

"We cannot turn our backs on our officers now. This is not the time to go back to the old ways of the LAPD. The days when cops were under-equipped and under-funded, overworked and overextended, pushed to the limit and stretched far too thin. This is the moment we commit ourselves to a more secure city, a larger LAPD," Villaraigosa said.

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