An incisive examination of American policing, using a tumultuous two decades in Los Angeles as a lens.
Journalist Domanick (Cruel Justice: Three Strikes and the Politics of Crime in America's Golden State, 2004, etc.), associate director of John Jay College’s Center on Media, Crime, and Justice, argues that the philosophical conflicts within the LAPD convey the “larger saga of big-city American policing.” He weaves this complex narrative around several key figures—officers, administrators, civilian commissioners, and gangbangers-turned-interventionists—and events, starting in 1992 with the ugly flash point of the Rodney King beating and the subsequent riots. The LAPD was unprepared for a conflagration stoked by its reliance on paramilitary tactics in minority neighborhoods. Domanick considers this the key feature of the LAPD since the reign of martinet chief William Parker in the 1950s and ’60s. Parker’s protégé, Daryl Gates, was unapologetically provocative, promoting hyperaggressive policing during the violent crack era of the 1980s. In the post-King political wreckage, Gates was succeeded by two African-American chiefs, outsider Willie Williams and admired local cop Bernard Parks. Both failed to address the LAPD’s baroque leadership structure and aggressive tactics, and they were plagued by the flawed investigation of O.J. Simpson and the “Ramparts CRASH” corruption scandal. The city finally turned to William Bratton, the driven, ambitious proponent of statistically oriented policing who claimed credit for New York’s historic crime reductions. Bratton saw his LA appointment as an opportunity to “remake [police] culture into a community-policing model without undoing his broken-windows strategy.” Domanick paints on a broad canvas, often pausing to look at other cities’ parallel struggles with policing and crime. He adeptly balances a complex discussion, addressing both the necessity of proactive law enforcement in neighborhoods plagued by gang violence and the fundamental injustice of the “Drug War” model as applied to low-income communities. While the focus on multiple biographies can become tedious, this is a well-executed, large-scale urban narrative.
Sprawling, engrossing, and highly relevant to the ongoing controversies about policing post-Ferguson, which Domanick addresses in an epilogue.