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Inglewood, Look Within

July 22, 2002

A grand jury has indicted one police officer for assault and another for filing a false report in the now-infamous videotaped beating of a handcuffed 16-year-old. It's time for the Inglewood Police Department to take a hard look not just at this incident but at itself.

Attorneys for Jeremy J. Morse, the Inglewood police officer charged with slamming Donovan Jackson onto a squad car and punching him in the face, argue that a gas station surveillance tape, unlike the widely broadcast videotape recorded by a witness, captured the beginning of the fray and explains the use of force. It's hard to imagine a justification for roughing up someone in handcuffs even if he had resisted earlier, but that will be sorted out in court and in a bevy of ongoing investigations, including Inglewood's own and one by the Justice Department.

What the Inglewood police chief, Ron Banks, must ask himself is, which was the aberration--the rough treatment or the fact that it was captured on camera?

As reported in last Monday's Times, witness interviews, court records and police documents revealed at least a dozen prior complaints alleging that Inglewood officers had mistreated arrestees in recent years. Yet over the last five years, Inglewood has not referred a single case to the Los Angeles County district attorney's office for potential prosecution, compared with more than 400 such referrals from the L.A. Police Department and the L.A. County Sheriff's Department.

Granted, these are much larger departments than the cop shop that polices Inglewood. But even Burbank, Pasadena, Beverly Hills and other small cities have referred at least one case of excessive force.

Cops and others who have rallied to Morse's defense use Inglewood's high crime rate to argue that the public doesn't understand the dangers officers are up against. But that raises the second question Inglewood needs to ask itself: How are Inglewood cops trained to approach a scene so that things won't escalate, to differentiate between a scary 16-year-old Crip and a scared teenager who may be slow to process their commands?

In an interview with The Times last week, Inglewood parent Marie Chavis spoke movingly of raising sons in a neighborhood so dangerous that even getting from home to school and back is a challenge. Yes, cops are needed, desperately, to protect residents from the thugs who turn daily routine into a risk. But in addition to warning her boy to stay clear of gangs and drugs, Chavis has to worry that he will be approached by cops who assume he's a gangbanger or a drug dealer and treat him accordingly.

"I have always taught him that there were good cops and bad cops," she said. Inglewood needs to be sure its training produces the good ones.

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