The LAPD was once known as “the world’s greatest police department,” due largely to its stringent character screening. Back in the era of Sergeant Joe Friday, LAPD candidates were checked out as thoroughly as homicide suspects. Even a casual relationship with any known criminal excluded a candidate from being considered as a police officer.
All that is now history. In a bid to appease racial activists and meet federal decrees, strict screening and testing measures were dismantled. New black and Hispanic officer candidates were hustled into the ranks at any cost. What former deputy chief Steve Downing called “a quagmire of quota systems” was set up, and “standards were lowered and merit took a back seat to the new political imperatives.”
It was back in 1981 that the LAPD first entered into a federal consent decree that instituted quotas for female and minority hiring. To meet these demands, the standards for physical capability, intellectual capacity, and personal character were lowered. The result was that many incapable or mediocre recruits—even significant numbers with criminal links or gang associations—were accepted into the department.
L.A. is not the only city that damaged its police force in a headlong rush for “diversity.” During the 1990s, Washington, D.C. had to fire or indict 250 cops after a similar lowering of standards, and New Orleans indicted more than 100 crooked or inept cops who had been hired—it was later found—due to “political pressures.” Miami had a similar scandal after scores of cops hastily recruited in response to race riots and an immigration surge got involved in robbing cocaine dealers and reselling their drugs. “We didn’t get the quality of officers we should have,” acknowledged department spokesman Dave Magnusson.
A scholarly study published in April 2000 in the professional journal Economic Inquiry found that aggressive “affirmative action” hiring raised crime rates in many parts of the U.S. In careful statistical analysis of 1987-1993 U.S. Department of Justice data from hundreds of cities, economist John Lott (then of the Yale School of Law, now a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute) found that quotas requiring more black and minority police officers clearly increase crime rates. When affirmative action rules take over, he reports, the standards on physical strength tests, mental aptitude tests, and other forms of screening are lowered. The result is a reduced quality of officers—both minority and non-minority recruits end up being less impressive.
Politicians refuse to admit that dropping standards can create problems, but other L.A. authorities are blunt about it. Los Angeles’s police academy, training experts say, can no longer reliably be used as “a de-selector” (to use the P.C.-speak). “I had mediocre trainees, some just plain incompetent. They were giving us trash. I finally transferred out because I didn’t want to go out in the field with these kids anymore,” explained retired LAPD training officer Jim Peasha. When he got a bad minority recruit, Peasha couldn’t drum him or her out, no matter what. “I had some fantastic minority recruits. One black kid was the best I ever had. But I also had one guy who I knew was on drugs and I couldn’t get him out. He wound up getting caught working as a guard at a rock [cocaine] house. An off-duty cop!”
Rot protected by race
On March 16, 1997, black off-duty LAPD officer Kevin Gaines was shot and killed in a “road rage” dispute. Gaines, angry and out of control, had pulled a gun on motorist Frank Lyga and threatened to “cap his ass.” Lyga, it turned out, was an undercover LAPD narcotics detective. He drew his 9 mm pistol and shot Gaines through the heart. Only later did he learn that Gaines was also LAPD. The incident made international headlines: “Cop Kills Cop.”
Russell Poole, who had a reputation as one of the LAPD’s best homicide detectives, was assigned to investigate the shooting. He discovered that Kevin Gaines drove an expensive Mercedes Benz, wore $5,000 suits, $1,000 Versace shirts, and lived his off-duty life in the fast lane of L.A. and Las Vegas nightclubs, a lifestyle he obviously didn’t maintain on his $55,000-per-year policeman’s salary. Gaines had many credit cards with expenses like the $952 he had dropped just the month before for lunch at Monty’s Steakhouse in Westwood, a favorite hangout for black gangster rappers. And at the time of his death, Gaines was living with the ex-wife of gangster rap music mogul Suge Knight—whose own criminal history included eight felony convictions.
It turned out that Gaines, like a significant number of other LAPD officers, was working on the side to provide “security” for Death Row Records, Knight’s notorious hoodlum rap music business that was deeply enmeshed in drugs and gang violence. The FBI had been following Gaines, who they suspected was moving drugs and money around L.A. for Death Row. Gaines was shameless. The vanity plates on his Mercedes read “ITS OK IA”—a brash taunt to the department’s Internal Affairs department.
While investigating Gaines, Poole was led to another flashy black cop named David Mack. Mack had grown up in a gang-infested Compton neighborhood before being hired by the LAPD. His nearly inseparable friend was fellow police officer Rafael Perez. Like Gaines, Mack and Perez lived large—nightclubs, girls, expensive cars and clothes.
In December 1997, David Mack was arrested for the armed robbery of a Bank of America branch in which he got away with $772,000. He was convicted and sentenced to 17 years in prison. Meanwhile, Perez’s coming and goings—and his astounding number of short cellular phone calls—convinced investigators he was dealing drugs. Following a six-month investigation, he was arrested for stealing eight pounds of cocaine from LAPD evidence lockers. Perez cut a deal for a 12-year prison sentence and talked.
The discovery of these dirty cops became known as the Rampart Scandal, the worst in LAPD history. Perez’s confession exposed a group of police officers who engaged in theft, drug dealing, perjury, improper shootings, evidence tampering, false arrests, witness intimidation, and beatings. They cribbed up in bachelor pad apartments for sex parties with hookers. These men were as out of control as the gangs they were supposed to police—in too many cases they were from the gangs they were supposed to police.
More than 30 officers were suspended or fired in the Rampart probe. Hundreds of criminal convictions tainted by links to Rampart cops were overturned. Although it did not receive much attention in the mainstream media, an embarrassing truth was exposed: Many L.A. cops had been corrupted by black gangsters (just as many New York cops were corrupted in another era by the Italian mob). “Rampart wasn’t about cops who became gangsters,” explained former LAPD deputy chief Downing. “It was about gangsters who became cops.”
How did city officials react to this painful lesson? By paying $70 million in settlements. By doing nothing about the P.C. race rules that opened the floodgates. And by agreeing to a consent decree that turned control of the LAPD over to the Feds. The consent decree drained crucial resources from crime fighting—nearly 350 department supervisors were permanently assigned to reporting on the decree, and tens of thousands of hours were spent by other officers on its mandates.