A highly sensitive discussion of shortcomings in Los Angeles Police Department intelligence gathering before the riots was scrapped from the final Webster panel report on the handling of the unrest, officials said Thursday.
A draft copy of the discarded chapter, obtained Thursday by The Times, says the LAPD "failed to implement a formal or systematic plan" for gathering information just prior to the announcement of verdicts in the Rodney G. King beating case.
"Even as the King beating trial was drawing to a close, and the jury was engaged in prolonged deliberations," the chapter says, "there apparently was little, if any, attempt on the part of the department to assess the tensions of the community."
But days before the landmark report was released, the co-leaders of the investigation, former FBI and CIA Director William H. Webster and Police Foundation President Hubert Williams, decided to pull the chapter. A copy was obtained from others close to the investigation.
Webster and Williams said Thursday that the excised section gave the erroneous impression that the LAPD's lack of readiness was caused by insufficient information gathering.
And they feared that emphasizing the need for intelligence gathering would undercut a crucial recommendation to get more officers involved in communities they patrol.
"This department had all the information it needed," Williams said during a luncheon with Times editors and reporters. "There was no failure here as far as the information (required) to tell there was a potential or likelihood of civil disorder."
Webster said: "We did not want anyone to construe (in calling for community-based policing) that we were saying we needed more community spies."
The Webster panel's internal struggle over the issue highlights a larger debate over how City Hall and LAPD leaders can best read the mood in communities where deep-rooted rage exploded in violence after four officers were found not guilty in the beating of King.
Fearing new violence could be prompted by two racially charged trials pending in state and federal court, Mayor Tom Bradley's office said Thursday it is attempting to organize small neighborhood meetings that would bring together community groups, former gang members, and others who could be influential in easing tensions in South-Central Los Angeles.
Deputy Mayor Mark Fabiani said the effort, which has been under way quietly for several weeks, has become the top priority for the time remaining in the retiring mayor's term. "It's the biggest thing we have to do . . . to ensure we are prepared for the outcome of those trials."
Fabiani said the mayor's efforts to keep the lid on violence last April failed in part because "we didn't reach deeply enough into the community."
The scrapped Webster report chapter on LAPD intelligence also says the police command staff did not realize the depth of tensions in the community at the time of the King trial.
The "only strategy" devised by the department for gathering information was to have command officers "talk to community leaders," the chapter says.
The chapter notes that a month before the riots, South Bureau commanders met and discussed the impending verdicts, "but there was no mention of the need to gather information concerning potential community reaction to those verdicts."
Then, at a meeting of all commanding officers just a week before the verdicts, "there was still no request that information as to the temperature of the city be gathered." The chapter also says that some information about potential trouble compiled by the elite police Metro Division was "discounted by most of those in the department."
And while some officers in the 77th Street Division alerted supervisors that some gang members were threatening violence, "it appears that none of this information was evaluated or used."
In contrast, the chapter describes in glowing terms the intelligence-gathering operation of the Philadelphia Police Department during the time it was headed by Willie L. Williams, now the LAPD chief. It pointed out that the Philadelphia department requires district captains to "make contacts with community leaders and business persons, and generally know the community that they serve."
Philadelphia police also set up advisory councils with business and community leaders to discuss "issues and events that might lead to disorder."
Webster said the chapter on intelligence was not needed because there was no specific failure to identify an organized element in the riots.
"We didn't identify any gang plans," he said, although he added there was evidence of "gang-directed" efforts to clean thousands of firearms out of gun shops.
Also, he said one consideration for downplaying the intelligence issue was its particular sensitivity in Los Angeles after a string of scandals over alleged spying on political activists and elected officials.
In recent years there has been controversy over allegations that the police spying network was used improperly to gather potentially damaging information on political figures and others. The Public Disorder and Intelligence Division was shut down amid a public outcry.
More recently, Chief Williams temporarily padlocked the offices of the Organized Crime Intelligence Division after a former member of the unit wrote a book alleging similar improprieties. Williams' office is still investigating the unit.
Hubert Williams said: "It's a delicate issue. . . . When you start community-oriented policing, one of the problems you run into out there when you're trying to interact with people . . . (is) you get looked at as a spy."