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Inglewood Force Doesn't Mirror City's Population

Police: Almost half the officers are white; the population is largely black and Latino. Residents seem torn by the videotape.

July 11, 2002|JILL LEOVY and ANNA GORMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

In many respects, the Inglewood Police Department today resembles the LAPD of the early 1980s: whiter than the community it serves, responsible for an area beset by violent crime and under fire for the conduct of its officers.

Still 43% white in a city whose population is half black and half Latino, Inglewood's 193-officer Police Department is typical of many medium-sized agencies.

Recruits get a little more than three-fourths of the training of LAPD officers, but work amid similar crime patterns.

They are young--nearly a third of them are rookies--and there aren't enough; the force is authorized to have 210 officers.

At the same time, Inglewood residents are at high risk of being victimized by crime. Murder rates are triple the national average.

Tone Williams, a 42-year-old black security guard, summed up the paradox: He matter-of-factly spoke of police beatings, which he believes are common, then twisted his neck to display a rippled, 6-inch scar, the result of an attack on the street. He credits police with helping to save him in that incident, and says he supports the department.

Inglewood has fielded an independent police department since the early part of the last century.

A fraction the size of the giant LAPD, today it is 43% white, 25% black, 27% Latino and 4% Asian. Chief Ronald Banks is black, as are one captain and at least one lieutenant.

This is a change from years ago when the department was mostly white, but Inglewood has changed more quickly.

Blacks were still a slim majority in 1990, but by the 2000 U.S. Census, they had slipped to less than 47% of the population. Latinos are 46%, whites less than 5%.

After this week's wide broadcast of a videotape showing an Inglewood officer slamming a teenager onto a car and punching him, Police Department officials this week took pains to point out that of the four officers seen on the videotape, one, Jeremy Morse, is white; one is African American; one is Latino; and the fourth describes himself as "other."

"It was the United Nations out there," said Lt. Eve Irvine.

Morse was put on administrative leave Monday; the incident is being investigated.

The command structure in Inglewood is much simpler than that of larger departments. The department is run by a chief, three captains, nine lieutenants and 31 sergeants.

In discipline as well, the department differs from larger agencies. There is no civilian involvement, and recommendations for punishment are made by supervisors rather than a review panel.

The department receives about 50 public complaints a year, Irvine said, resulting from about 50,000 contacts between officers and residents. Another 50 or so internal complaints also are investigated annually.

Unlike the LAPD, Inglewood has no written list of punishments for specific acts of misconduct. Instead, supervisors' discretion and past practice are the rule.

Typically, only a handful of officers are suspended in any given year, and terminations, though not unknown, are quite rare, Irvine said.

Officially, the department expects all employees to encourage citizens or fellow employees to bring complaints or reports of employee misconduct, and failure to do so is a violation of policy, Irvine said.

On Saturday, the day the alleged brutality took place, Inglewood officers at the scene filed a report that described the striking of the teenager, authorities said.

In contrast, the LAPD requires its officers to immediately report even possible misconduct, and imposes penalties, including termination, for failure to do so.

Inglewood officers receive 830 hours of training at various academies, including the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Academy, officials said. The state minimum is 664. The state average is about 1,000 hours, and LAPD officers receive 1,200.

Officers face a crime environment similar to that in surrounding Los Angeles County and Los Angeles city neighborhoods.

However, Inglewood's 10 murders as of June represent a 30% decline from last year--in sharp contrast to the rest of Los Angeles, where murder is on the rise.

Residents seemed torn between support for the department and revulsion at what they saw on the tape.

"My experience with police personally has been that they are very attentive, responsive to problems," said restaurant owner Adolph Dulan.

But when he saw the tape, Dulan said, he "felt a sickness in the pit of my stomach.

"Like, 'Oh my God, here we go all over again.' "

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