History of the LAPD
The Los Angeles Police Department
Then and Now
Always exciting, frequently controversial, the history of the LAPD greatly influences the history of the City of Los Angeles and law enforcement nationwide. Police officers like to joke that, the Metro Section of the Los Angeles Times would fold up and go out of business, if it wasn’t for the LAPD.
The early years of Los Angeles, like those of so many other Western towns, were rocked by violence and unbridled lawlessness. The opportunity to acquire sudden wealth by any means available, together with the absence of sorely needed laws and an adequate number of police officers, offered an open invitation to bandits, gun-slingers, gamblers and con-artists of every variety. These were the realities which the newly-born municipality struggled to overcome during the 25 tumultuous years which followed its incorporation as a City in 1850. A degree of maturity was attained by the city with the establishment in 1869 of the first paid police force. Six officers, assigned to two shifts, served under the City Marshal William C. Warren. Salaries were derived mostly from collected fees and fines. Warren was destined to die of gunshot wounds sustained in a dispute with one of his officers in 1870.
Also in 1870, the City Council appointed three of its members to form the first Board of Police Commissioners. Six years later, Jacob F. Gerkins, a former councilman, became the first Chief of Police. Gerkins was succeeded by Emil Harris, the manager and part owner of a saloon and a former policeman. Harris is remembered for having aided the Sheriff in the capture of the celebrated bandit, Tiburcio Vasques, who expired on the gallows in 1875.
The early 1870s witnessed increasing crime and turbulence, which seemingly expanded in direct relation to the riches being accumulated by law abiding citizens engaged in agriculture, transportation, mining and real estate.
Laws prohibiting gambling, prostitution and drunkenness, if they existed at all, went unenforced. Out of 285 business establishments, 110 were saloons, serving a population of 5,614.
The equipment in 1885 was valued at $354 and was used by a force of 18 officers. The salary of Chief Edward McCarthy was $150 a month. In about the same year, the Department purchased it first patrol wagon. Open in design, it was 12 feet in length and pulled by a single horse. Two officers, veterans of the Civil War, were assigned as its drivers. Something about the demands of the Office of Chief of Police must have inspired its incumbents or the populace to frequently seek replacements. No fewer than 15 Chiefs attained command between 1876 and 1889, and only one among them, Henry King, endured for as long as two years. But, in 1889, John M. Glass embarked on a distinguished 11-year career during which he instilled within the department the beginnings of true professionalism. By the turn of the century, Los Angeles Policemen were referred to as The Pride of the State. Sworn Personnel in 1897 totaled 93 with 69 officers assigned to patrol duties. Chief Glass annual salary was $3,000. Captains received $1,500; secret servicemen (plainclothes officers) and detectives received $1,200; mounted officers $1,080, and patrolmen $1,000.
In March 30, 1889, all patrol personnel, including the City’s first Black officer, Robert William Stewart (hired in 1886), proudly displayed new uniforms. With their introduction came these words from Chief Glass: You will keep your coats buttoned, stars pinned over your left breast on outside of coat and hold your clubs firmly. The patrolman’s equipment included a 45-70 rifle, a revolver, handcuffs, whistle and baton.
Mrs. Lucy Gray became the first Police Matron in 1888, some 32 years before women were given the right to vote. Tiny in stature, weighing a scant 100 pounds, Mrs. Gray was remarkably successful in reforming female offenders and in the prevention of juvenile delinquency. Such was her dedication that she voluntarily established her living quarters within the City Jail where her skills as a nurse were frequently enlisted. Department records also refer to her as a detective. Alice Stebbins Wells, meanwhile, won a permanent place in the history of law enforcement in 1910 when she became the world’s fist official policewoman.
Accurate records of officers killed in the line of duty were not maintained prior to 1907. Since that date, 203 Los Angeles Police Officers have sacrificed their lives while attempting to protect and serve. The creation of a Detective Bureau as a separate unit within the Department occurred in 1907 under the direction of Chief Edward Kern. It was staffed by a captain and 25 officers. That year is also memorable for the acquisition of the Department’s first gas automobile, a 2-cylinder vehicle.
Los Angeles, by 1911, had 200 miles of paved streets frequented by 28,000 motor cars registered in the City and an additional 12,000 in the County. The problem of auto theft had begun and has plagued the City ever since. A fleet of touring cars purchased in 1913 resulted in the formation of the Department’s first motor patrol. motorcycle speed. This pre- World War I period also witnessed the coming of the Identification and Juvenile Bureaus and the installation of a fingerprinting system.
There is no higher calling than that of policeman. I would rather be a policeman than President. These observations were made by one of the mostly highly regarded and farsighted law enforcement officials of the 20th century. He was the late August Vollmer, who, in response to the urgent request of the Board of Police Commissioners, agreed to head the Los Angeles Police Department for one year. Taking up the reins in 1923, Chief August Vollmer completely reorganized the Department and projected many of those goals which have since been largely attained. His tremendous competence and devotion to professional law enforcement brought him added recognition as a teacher in renowned universities in Southern California, Chicago, Indiana, Hawaii, Michigan, Texas, and Washington. Chief Vollmer laid the groundwork for what since has become the Department’s Scientific Investigation and Metropolitan Divisions.
First to adopt several of Vollmer’s recommendations was Chief R. Lee Heath, his immediate successor. During Heath’s command, the forerunner of the Training Academy was established. Recruits, for the first time, were required to undergo three months of rigorous schooling in 65 subjects. Chief Heath also initiated the Public Affairs Division.
Many of the ills born during the Depression and war years of the 1930s and 1940s were inherited by William H. Parker when he assumed the office of Chief in 1950. If the Department truly deserves the reputation it enjoys as the world’s finest, the credit, unquestionably, reflects the policies and procedures implemented by Chief Parker.
One of the most violent social upheavals to confront the Los Angeles Police Department occurred in August 1965. For seven days, the Los Angeles community of Watts was engulfed in rioting and looting. With the help of other law enforcement agencies and the California National Guard, rioting and looting were brought to a halt with minimum loss of life.
A policeman’s policeman in every sense of the word, Chief Parker inspired in all who served the Department, not only the highest ideals of serving and justice, but also a new sense of professionalism.
Following Chief Parker’s untimely death in 1966, the Administrative Building was renamed Parker Center. Thad Brown became the interim chief until Tom Reddin was selected in 1967 to be Parker’s replacement. Chief Reddin had been head of the Detective Bureau and was a member of President’s Crime Task Force. He was very public-relations oriented, and he revamped recruiting procedures to make the Department more accessible to alleviate personnel shortages. Chief Reddin’s tenure was short-lived, however, and in 1969 he retired to become a local television news broadcaster.
Under the leadership of Chief Edward M. Davis, the Department took important strides forward by enhancing public protection through public participation. This introduced a revolutionary Career Police Plan, placing 30 officers in public schools as accredited full-time faculty members teaching a Police Role in Government course. This also launched the highly successful Basic Car Plan and Team Policing, and secured the first major increase in authorized sworn personnel in several years, bringing the total to 7,882 by 1974.
In March of 1978, Daryl F. Gates, a 29-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department, who at one time had been Chief Parker’s driver and adjutant, was appointed the City’s 49th Chief of Police. Due to budget cuts stemming from the passage of Proposition 13, the Department went through a period of decline in both personnel resources and equipment.
Calendar year 1983 found the Department entering the final phases of preparation for the 1984 Olympics. This tremendous and almost overwhelming task would soon test the level of commitment and professionalism of each member of the Los Angeles Police Department.
By the summer of 1984, the department had to be ready to handle every conceivable scenario that might develop during the Olympics. Besides the 1.5 million anticipated spectators, there were also 12,000 athletes, 10,000 members of the news media, and 3,000 game officials converging on Los Angeles and requiring protection.
The responsibility for all planning and preparation by the Department rested on the Olympic Games Planning Group. The unit, which consisted of only 34 sworn and civilian personnel, had to be able to guarantee the Department’s readiness for the Olympics.
Even with such Titanic obligations, the Department did not lose sight of its obligations to the community during 1983. This was proven by the start of an innovative new program in September of that year. Chief Gates knew that in order for the Department to gain control over the growing drug problem on the streets of Los Angeles, a new approach was needed and it was called DARE, an acronym for Drug Abuse Resistance Education. It was designed to teach elementary school children to say no to drugs. DARE was the first program of its kind to be developed by a law enforcement agency in the United States. It has proven to be so effective that it is taught worldwide.
During the 1984 Olympic Games, the Los Angeles Police Department affirmed its place as one of the finest Police Departments in the world. Members of the Department, working 12-hour days, played a major part in the success and safety enjoyed at the Summer Games by all who attended or participated. Officers at every level proved they were capable of handling everything from helping a tourist find an event to protecting Heads of State. The Department even earned the praise of one of its hardest critics, the Los Angeles Times. The Times printed, The Los Angeles Police Department did a superior job in crowd control and security, and its professionalism was fully matched by its courtesy and friendliness.
With the increase in the number of officers on the streets near the Olympic venues and villages, crime dropped dramatically. To the residents who lived near the sites, it was a welcome relief. At the close of the Olympics, the extra officers returned to their regular duty assignments, much to the dismay of the community which had benefited from their presence. Before long crime rates started to increase again.
In 1991 the Department and the City of Los Angeles were rocked by a series of crises touched off by the Rodney King incident. In 1992, Los Angeles was the victim of a major civil disturbance. These back-to-back incidents caused the people and the leaders of the City to fundamentally re-examine and modernize Police Department policies, training methods, and personnel practices. Ultimately, in mid-1992 there was a change of leadership, and Willie L. Williams was appointed Chief of Police.
Chief Williams had served as the Police Commissioner of Philadelphia. There had not been an outsider at the helm of the LAPD since the 1940s. Chief Williams tenure a fixed term of five years from 1992-1997 was marked by the implementation of the Community Policing model, which focused on Community Police Problem Solving by front line officers.
Ever on the front pages, Los Angeles was rocked on February 28, 1997 by the North Hollywood Bank Robbery Shoot-Out, which found officers outgunned by bandits wielding fully automatic rifles and wearing heavy body armor. Numerous officers were shot and critically wounded during the incident which featured unbelievable feats of heroism. Ultimately, the heroes and heroines prevailed over the predators.
Before the expiration of Chief Williams term, Chief Bayan Lewis was appointed as the interim Chief of Police. His brief tenure was marked by acquisition of better firearms for officers to use to protect the public and themselves in the wake of the North Hollywood Shoot-Out. Chief Lewis paved the way for the new Chief of Police, 32- year LAPD veteran Bernard C. Parks.
During the first three years, Chief Parks cut significant layers of bureaucracy, introduced new systems of accountability to professional standards, and moved rapidly toward his vision of Community Government. For two years, crime fell by double-digit percentage points, as arrests and officer-initiated activities increased. But during Parks third year, the crime-statistic pendulum swung, as it always does, and the Department was challenged to keep the lid on crime increases. Renewed emphasis on gang intervention, juvenile intervention, employee training and discipline, improved weaponry in the wake of the North Hollywood Bank Robbery Shoot-Out, and developing dynamic partnerships with the business community and public officials were a handful among many accomplishments.
A tireless worker, Chief Parks raised the bar for excellence among the Department’s leaders and its front-line personnel. But nothing prepared the Department and City for the shock of systemic corruption that was festering in the anti-gang detail of the Rampart station. A gang officer who was caught stealing a large quantity of cocaine from an evidence locker ended up in a plea bargain in which he implicated several other officers in serious wrong doing on the streets. As the investigation played out, the Federal Government stepped in and forced a Consent Decree upon the City. The Department produced a major board of inquiry report that detailed the shortcomings in audit and oversight systems, challenging every member of the Department to renew his or her commitment to the Department’s Core Value of, Continuous Improvement.
As if the strain of the Rampart scandal was not enough, the City had years earlier contracted to host the 2000 Democratic National Convention. The planning, training, and near-flawless execution of the plan gave a world-wide television audience an up close and personnel look at L.A.’s Finest in action on the streets. And the public liked what it saw: well-trained, hard-working professionals who were the epitome of police professionalism! The DNC allowed the world to gain some perspective about the current state of the Los Angeles Police Department, and to see that the overwhelming majority of officers are not above the law but are the embodiment of respect for the law and protectors of the public.
In early 2002, in the midst of implementation of a Federal Consent Decree to change the way the Department conducts business, the City declined to grant Chief Parks a second five-year term. Deputy Chief Martin Pomeroy was appointed Interim Chief.
Then, in October 2002 William J. Bratton, former Chief of the New York Police Department and Boston Police Department and others, was appointed the 54th Chief of Police of the Los Angeles Police Department. He immediately set out to reorganize and re-energize the Department to create an environment in which officers and Department leaders serve the community by aggressively engaging in partnerships and problem-solving throughout Los Angeles.
After one year, Chief Bratton realized what every Chief of Police has complained of since 1870 the department is greatly understaffed! Chief Bratton has also gone on record saying that this city is the most dangerous place to be a police officer, a powerful statement to the professionalism and dedication of the police officers who serve so competently.
Chief Bratton retired from his post in October, 2009, leaving a much advanced and much improved Department behind. The Chief’s accomplishments were many and impressive. Technological advances and organizational changes again brought LAPD into the forefront of American law enforcement. The Chief acquired funding and resources unfamiliar to the LAPD, but very much needed. For the citizens of LA, Chief Bratton was the right Chief at the right time. His year after year crime reductions helped to make LA a very safe big city. Likewise, his stunning crime reduction results proved that his systems and methods worked. Most notably, Chief Bratton was responsible for the lifting of the Federal Consent Decree. His leadership was effective, expert and most impressive.
Chief Bratton was succeeded briefly by Deputy Chief Michael Downing, a second generation Deputy Chief and veteran LAPD command officer. Another veteran LAPD Deputy Chief, and second generation command officer, Charlie Beck assumed command of the Department in October 2010. Chief Beck was immediately confronted by the realities of a declining economy and its associated challenges. The Chief currently oversees a Department of nearly 10,000 officers (two of whom are his children) and approximately 3.000 non-sworn employees.