101: An LAPD for the People

GUEST COMMENTARY-Los Angeles does not need so much a defunding of the LAPD as a transition of their mission back to one of civic engagement and public protection. 

A lot of Angelenos want a strong police presence. Especially when perceptions of violence are being deliberately exacerbated and our Mayor has not done very much to tone down the exaggerations of the current White House occupant. 

There are at least two sides (and often more) to every story. The important stuff is not the black and the white, but how the grey stuff in between makes people feel. 

Over and over again these past few weeks, we’ve heard people of color say that they do not feel seen or listened to in this white-construct of a world. 

No procedural reforms within the prevailing structure will address removing the existential threat of police brutality, of officers and recruits who have power-tripping problems, unless and until regulations are in place to publicly prosecute malefactors like every other felon. 

And not just when their behavior escalates to murder, but for every incremental act of racism, sexism and inappropriate conduct which leads up to overt violence. 

Yes, reforms after the Christopher Commission and the Rampart Scandal have reduced death-by-cop statistics over the past quarter-century. 

But by what criteria has racially exacerbated police violence actually declined in Los Angeles? Deaths? Confrontations? Arrests? Verbal abuse? Stop and frisk? 

Or have they just found better ways to bury bad behavior away from the public eye? 

There's a toxic culture inside many police departments today that reinforces and accelerates such behavior and is too often self-perpetuating. It previously surfaced periodically in Los Angeles – think Daryl Gates, think the Rampart scandal – before sinking beneath the news babble. Yet it remains all-too-visible in those communities that Black Lives Matter champions. 

Too often police unions around the country protect their members unilaterally and have enough influence with their local governments to ensure there are no clear and immediate consequences for these “bad apple” police officers. Which only encourages them (and those who observe their actions) to ramp up the number and severity of their offences. 

There has also been continuing attrition in community support because too many people feel they cannot trust the police. Criminal activity is not reported due to the fear of unpredictable reactions from officers, the fear many have of being deported, and the fear of retribution. 

When police won’t help with legitimate concerns (as occurs when police have been paid off by criminals but also when the complainants are perceived as marginal) people turn to other sources for vigilante justice. Impacting the quality of everyone’s lives. 

The City cannot eviscerate the LAPD overnight. There will need to be a transition period from a militarized and unaccountable organization to one that works for the people and is fully accountable to the people. 

But the City must lay out an accelerated transition that is both just and responsive to all the people of Los Angeles, not exclusively the power elite. And they can validate Black Lives Matter’s concerns by joining voices calling for an immediate end to qualified immunity. 

In too many cases, people know exactly who the police perpetrators are, but they are “protected” by the police union. No more. 

We need the union, the LAPD brass, and concerned citizens from all interest groups to assess moving certain skill sets into lateral jobs that help our neighborhoods move forward. Especially in the wake of the pandemic. 

Starting with a separate traffic force that doesn’t approach drivers swinging batons or pulling out guns. 

As a white female grad student recently arrived in LA, my first experience with the LAPD – (I still feel the shock and panic from it 34 years on) was when two cops stalked over, one swinging his riot stick, the other unfastening his holster. 

My crime? Honking my horn when I came around a curve on Sunset just before Beverly Hills, because the police had stopped a car in the middle of the road. Honking when braking suddenly is what driving schools in Canada train students to do to warn cars behind them. 

Imagine what would have happened if I’d been a black teen in South Central? 

Intimidation escalates violence; without the attitude, confrontations arising from road stops will take a nosedive. 

In the same manner, a civilian corps with social welfare training won’t threaten the homeless or those suffering from mental illness and addiction, or under the incredible stress of domestic turbulence. 

The inculcated instinct to call-a-cop is what too often escalates any situation to violence. We need to start turning to a discreet variety of public safety resources for help and leave the police with what they do best. Solving crime. 

And becoming the friendly face in the neighborhood to whom people can turn with a problem. This would allow Angelenos to perceive the police once again as the good guys and diminish the sense of fear that is too often a stressor for officers today. 

nd, in the case of the Black Lives Matter movement and the City, these choices and changes must be driven by the people to bring real and lasting benefits to the black community. No more tokenism.  No more photo ops.                                                                                                

There will always be the yes-but examples. But by not embracing the people, the police are continuing to build a chasm between them and the community. Let’s replace law and order with peace and protection. 

JFK’s Peace Corps attracted young volunteers who wanted peace, who wanted to help other people, not murder them, not remake other cultures in the image of 1950s America. How can we find those idealists in our current era who can remake our police force in their image? And in the names of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Philando Castile, Trayvon Martin and Sandra Bland. 

If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. Each of us needs to take it as a call to action and demand accountability from the City, demand our elected officials stand up to the police and their union, demanding that they be accountable, really accountable, to the City and all of its stakeholders. 

And that the LAPD remodel itself into a force the youth of tomorrow aspire to join. 

There are obviously no perfect answers, but these are the issues about which the questions must be asked.


(Liz Amsden is an activist from Northeast Los Angeles with opinions on much of what goes on in our lives.  She also writes on behalf of the Budget Advocates’ mission regarding the City’s budget and services. In her real life she works on budgets, for film and television, where fiction can rarely be as strange as the truth of living in today’s world.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.