They are weary of the headlines, the new rules, the mounting complaints from citizens, the ceaseless goading on the street by troublemakers who taunt them with the name Rodney King. Yet each shift, around the clock, the men and women of the Los Angeles Police Department have to go back out there.
Those who seem best equipped to carry on are officers who recognize that they must be adaptable and open-minded in their public service. It is harder for the gung-ho types, the cowboys and gunslingers, the veterans and strivers who have invested their psyches in the department's war on crime. They made their choice, according to the old station house saying, to "go with The Program"--to be hard-nosed and aggressive--and now it is not at all clear where The Program is going.
Some conscientious officers have tried to look at the year's events as a challenge to better themselves and the department. Cadging copies of the Christopher Commission report, they have pored over its 228 pages on the sly. Dissidents within the department see hope in what the post-Rodney King order will bring.
One day over a Mexican meal at an Echo Park restaurant, a soft-spoken sergeant confided that he was going in for a battery of heart tests. He has about as good a job as anyone at his level--he travels, he is a likely candidate for promotions. Lately, though, he had been having chest pains and indigestion.
"My wife says it's because I'm taking all this King stuff so hard," he said. "I don't know. Maybe she's right."
A homicide detective joked recently about printing up new calling cards reading: "I never met Rodney King." An officer who traveled back East a few months ago kept silent when he heard cops in New York and other cities using the word "L.A." as a verb. "You should have been here last week," a Long Island policeman told the chagrined LAPD cop, boasting about a beating he had administered. "We really L.A.'d this guy."
Los Angeles police officers have come to believe that their work lives will never be the same. In the wake of the King beating, personnel complaints have soared, prompting officers to confront even the most routine decisions with a new sense of trepidation.
Newton Division officer Dan Marrufo and his partner tailed a driver one day because he "looked odd." Marrufo punched the man's license into their Digicom MDT-800 computer to see if he had outstanding traffic warrants. Nothing came back. The officers kept on the man's tail, still waiting for the information as he parked in front of a house and went inside. Finally, the computer spit back. No warrants. The cops drove off, not giving it a second thought.
Three days later, Marrufo's supervising sergeant informed him that the man he followed had lodged a complaint. "Like, what right did we have for tailing him if he didn't do anything wrong," Marrufo said, shaking his head. "They're crazy on us now. Just look at somebody the wrong way and it winds up on your record."
Departmentwide, 2,425 personnel complaints had been filed by October, a leap of more than 70% over the 1,430 filed in the same nine-month period of 1990. The figures not only reflect Police Chief Daryl F. Gates' move to investigate all improper computer messages between officers and to reopen old complaints, but also reveal the dramatic rise in citizen complaints since the King beating, said department spokesman Fred Nixon.
There are some who manage not to succumb to the department's gloom. Some are specialists like Central Division Detective Marco Tenorio, a 22-year-veteran who spends his days arresting dozens of small-time crack vendors. New dealers always quickly replace the arrested ones, but at least Tenorio and his fellow undercover agents have the satisfaction of putting away seasoned criminals. They know their enemies.
"When you're on patrol it's hard not to start thinking everyone's against you," said Tenorio, who put in his time walking a foot beat at Aliso Village housing project.
Sgt. Glenn Krejci stuffs his emotions inside as he makes his rounds, stoically taking whatever comes, even from children.
At dusk in South-Central, children scramble through housing project streets, massing on the sidewalks, zipping around on dirt bikes and motorcycles. Senior citizens and shoppers know enough to stay out of their way.
Krejci watched with amazement one night as an under-aged driver executed a perfect right turn in an off-road vehicle from Compton Avenue into the 113th Street Park. The park was too crowded for Krejci to follow, so he took 115th Street, glancing into cul-de-sacs until he saw the off-roader parked in front of a stucco house. Inside was the officer's quarry, an 11-year-old named Deon, who was sitting cross-legged in front of the television with a friend who lived there.
The father of the house appeared in the doorway. "Get this boy out," he bellowed. "I knew he had to be running from something the way he shot in here."