What is to be done about these circumstances that produce a siege mentality in police? Certainly leadership and good management are important. Promotion, reward and disciplinary procedures must be sound and related to actual performance. Recruitment and training must provide an adequate pool of qualified officers. And commissions and chiefs must be accountable to the public they serve. The Christopher Commission wisely emphasized these aspects of management (though their call for Gates' retirement will certainly create as many problems as it could solve). The danger, however, in relying too greatly on administrative remedies is that they will not be successful unless a fundamental flaw in the current strategy of policing is addressed.
One section of the commission's report does move beyond managerial control: the section on community policing. It will receive the least media and political attention, at least initially. But it is the real crux of change in the mission and tactics of Los Angeles police. It goes to the basic issue of improving the quality of policing for the citizens and neighborhoods of Los Angeles--to what the nature of police work should be.
It contains an alternate vision that implicitly acknowledges what urbanologist Jane Jacobs knew 30 years ago when she wrote "The Death and Life of Great American Cities": Street safety is kept by deeply ingrained patterns of civil obligation and responsibility. When these patterns break down, neither the numbers of police nor their tactics can substitute; the streets become uninhabitable.
Responsibility for street safety rests with the primary institutions of society: family, church, school and neighborhoods. Police can help these institutions, but without their full involvement police cannot and should not try to solve society's problems. Until the nature of institutional responsibility is understood and respected by police, and police are involved in close collaboration, frustrations will continue on both sides--as will the kind of zealotry witnessed in the Rodney King incident.