"L.A. Law" is working on an episode that examines what happens when the public begins to see police officers as a threat to their physical safety rather than as protection from crime and foul play.
Developed before the March 3 beating of Rodney G. King by Los Angeles policemen that has sparked a national furor, the episode nonetheless includes lightly camouflaged references to it and other such reports of police brutality, according to David E. Kelley, executive producer of the law series. The episode is currently in production and is tentatively scheduled to air May 2.
"We're doing a story about the erosion of public trust in the police department," Kelley said. "It's not a case where the man is actually mistreated by the police, but it's one that explores what happens when fear of the police, because of events like (the Rodney King incident), pervades a community."
"L.A. Law" has been exploring this issue and how racism influences the behavior of some police officers in the field this entire season. First, Jonathan Rollins, the firm's sharp-dressed, sharp-tongued black associate played by Blair Underwood, was forced to defend a white cop who had mistakenly killed a black teen-ager during a shootout in a dark alley. Then, in a recent episode that echoes the arrests of black sports heroes Joe Morgan and Jamaal Wilkes, Rollins was jogging one night in a ritzy white neighborhood near his home when he was stopped, arrested and roughed up by two white cops who said he "did not fit the profile of the neighborhood."
In the upcoming episode, Rollins will bring this baggage into the courtroom as he defends a black man who argues that he was acting in self-defense when he refused to stop for police because he feared he would be harmed. Kelley said that he had been working on this episode as a logical development in the Rollins/LAPD story line before the horrifying beating of King and the subsequent indictments of four police officers. But he added that while the episode will not cite the King incident, that event helps validate similar stories of police brutality evoked in the fictional courtroom and it adds credence to the show's premise.
A quick survey of the four networks revealed that no other law or police series, most of which had already completed work on their remaining scripts for the year prior to the assault of King, is immediately planning an episode based on the incident.