This gritty recounting of the Los Angeles Police Department's often ugly history goes a long way toward demonstrating the inevitability of the Rodney King beating and the ensuing riots. Domanick (Faking It in America, 1989) digs back to the 1870s founding of the department, which from the beginning was used by the rich, conservative WASP landowners as ""a strong-arm goon squad."" Focusing on four police chiefs -- James Davis, 1926-38; Bill Parker, 1950-60; Ed Davis, 1969--78; and Daryl Gates, 1978--92 -- Domanick shows how the LAPD became ""the most powerful, most independent, most arrogant, most feared, and most political big-city police department in the nation."" Union-busting, Red-baiting, spying on politicians and critics of the department, corruption, and protection for select bootlegging, prostitution, and gambling operations are all part of the LAPD history as spelled out here. Trying to maintain Los Angeles as a ""Peoria With Palm Trees,"" James Davis invented the dragnet during the Depression to round up migrants looking for work; his ""bum blockade"" extended, illegally, all the way to California's borders. Davis's legacy would be manifest over the years in Parker's abominable handling of events leading up to and including the bloody 1965 Watts riots and in ""Crazy Ed"" Davis's often brutal treatment of the Black Panthers, hippies, and radicals of the time. On Gates's watch, in 1979, police officers gunned down a black woman who resisted having her gas shut off. His 1988 Operation Hammer (a show of force against the Bloods and Crips in which the LAPD arrested 25,000 young black males, gang members or not), although loudly applauded at the time, served as the harbinger of the King beating. A stunning book, with vivid portraits of the chiefs and their minions adding a human dimension. It's not the official story, and certainly not one the LAPD will be proud of.