The relationship between Los Angeles city government and its Police Department once was distinctly destructive: City Hall starved the LAPD for resources but, by way of consolation, allowed its officers to do their work without much second-guessing. The result was a kind of mutually assured destruction at the civic level, and the breaking point occurred in 1991 and 1992. The beating of Rodney G. King inflamed an abused public, and the riots that erupted when the officers responsible were found not guilty highlighted both the fury toward the police and the LAPD's inability to respond. The bill for decades of neglect and indifference came due.
City Hall's relationship to the LAPD began to change with the election of Mayor Richard Riordan, and it has continued to improve, with some interruption, in the years since. For his part, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has contributed mightily toward healing those old wounds, first by finding the money to expand the LAPD — though it remains just shy of his promised 10,000 officers — and then, a year ago this week, by hiring Charlie Beck as its chief.
Sound management and wise public investment have produced the opposite of what starvation and neglect once did. Crime has declined year after year, and continues to drop in 2010. Even as other big cities have seen increases, Los Angeles has reduced overall serious crimes by 7.2%, and homicides by more than 10%. If those trends continue through the end of this year, Los Angeles will complete 2010 with less than one murder a day. In the early 1990s, more than four times that many Angelenos were murdered. Not since the 1960s has Los Angeles been this free of crime.
Police work is never done, and the department continues to confront some stubborn reminders of its past. Just last week, The Times reported that the Justice Department is troubled by the LAPD's systems for investigating allegations of racial profiling. Beck and the city's Police Commission are right to take those admonitions seriously, but also right to place them in a larger context. As Beck pointed out, LAPD officers faced 216 allegations of profiling last year. Over the same period, officers made arrests, issued citations or impounded vehicles on 800,000 occasions. Racial profiling is destructive to public confidence in the police, and should be vigorously rooted out. Thankfully, it is at least rare.
Today, one year into Beck's tenure, Los Angeles is safer than it has been in decades. As a result, it is more inviting to tourists and business. Credit is due to Chief Beck, who has managed the department with skill, and to the mayor, who has found resources for the LAPD and defended them even in difficult economic times.