Testimony before the Christopher Commission
(Independent commission chaired by Warren Christopher investigating the LAPD after the Rodney King incident) May 29, 1991

For the last several weeks, you've been hearing the outrage, frustration, anger and fear of Los Angeles citizens as they detail their encounters with the LAPD. You've heard horror stories from every minority community, gays and lesbians included. It is not my intention to add to these accounts this evening, feeling our time better spent by focusing my remarks on possible preliminary steps to restoring the public trust in the LAPD.

That there have been abuses of power, is not surprising. That, unfortunately, is the nature of the beast. Where power is wielded, there exists the potential for its abuse. That these abuses may have been bigotry inspired is also not surprising. Police, after all, are human, with the full range of prejudices and emotions we all feel at some time or another, whether or not we act them out. But when officers consistently and blatantly overstep the bounds, not only of their authority, but of civilized behavior in some cases, with no fear of recrimination, there is clearly something wrong. Chief Gates' refusal to even acknowledge that a problem exists, demonstrates that he is closer to the heart of the problem than he is to the solution. For this reason, and for his promotion of ideas and stereotypes that alienate instead of integrate, I believe one of your main considerations should be his resignation.

The sheer number of complaints of police misconduct demands we examine what type of checks and balances are in place to help prevent citizens from being victimized by rogue police. There will always be officers who are driven over the edge by stress, or who harbor simmering prejudices that will eventually boil to the surface, or who see no harm in words faggot, dyke, beaner, slant-eye, nigger, kike. I want a system that attempts to find those people before they snap. And if we can't locate them before a violent episode, I want to be certain, as a citizen of this community, that 20 officers won't stand idly by and watch. That is why this city is angry and frightened. It could have been, and has been all too often, any one of us, but it's usually one of us who is a person of color, or queer, or chemically dependent, or poor, or a person with AIDS.

To these people, to us, it seems the LAPD has lost touch with the community it is supposed to protect. In the human relations training at the LAPD academy, the different minorities arc discussed for 1 1/2 hours per minority. Above all this must be increased, hopefully to at least one full day per segment, and continue with in-service instruction at regular intervals. Human relations training must become a priority, not remain a sidebar to tactical and other instruction. In line with this, I believe there should be foot patrols through the minority business districts, where recruits would rotate through each segment of the community, much like doctors' training rotations. From my experience as a former police officer, you learn a lot about people when you're out walking among them, away from the shelter, and psychological barrier, of a police car. People in this city feel powerless in dealing with the police. As a result, we have begun to be afraid of them. Ask anyone who's been stopped lately if they didn't feel just a bit more apprehensive about the encounter. Let's face it, the day of Officer Friendly, the cop on the beat, is long gone. Now kids carry uzis. I understand that that is reality, but still I seek, and think we deserve, some kind of assurance that the good guys (innocent citizens) won't be mistaken for the bad guys, or worse, in the case of some police officers, become them.

To this end, I favor some form of civilian review board, independent of the meddling of the City Council, with full subpoena, investigative and disciplinary powers. The existing Police Commission could be expanded to fill this need.

I have been told by command personnel in the LAPD that the department disciplines approximately 200 officers per month, but it's not public knowledge. I think the department could demonstrate a sense of accountability to the people by publishing in the press the names of those officers and why they were disciplined. They are public servants, so their service records should be open to the public.

I also advocate examining the psychosocial services offered at the LAPD, particularly in the area of combat stress. I believe there should be random psychological testing to determine a person's fitness for duty, testing for a. person's inclinations toward violence, as well as for deeply held prejudices which could fuel violent acts. I also believe in mandatory psychological re-evaluation after the first valid misconduct complaint.

I fully realize that implementation of these suggestions, especially those for increased training, would require increased funding. I believe the citizens of Los Angeles would support these changes, especially if these steps can help bring an end to the millions of dollars annually spent by the city for excessive force judgements. But I also feel the department itself, each and every member, should contribute financially to the payment of these judgments. I believe a special fund could be established, a sort of malpractice fund for lack of better terminology, where every officer, from the Chief on down, contributes $10 per pay check. That would amount to nearly $2 million a year to offset what the taxpayers are forced to shell out because of their actions. An incentive program could be devised to return unused portions of the fund to the individual officers. This would hopefully encourage officers to intervene before misconduct happens, because they would share in the financial stake.

The implementation and success of whatever reforms you suggest will require the full support and cooperation of every segment of the community. It is difficult to rebuild trust when that trust has been repeatedly broken. It is my opinion that that confidence and support will not be easily forthcoming from the gay and lesbian community unless the LAPD begins to actively recruit, hire and promote open gays and lesbians. We are not asking for quotas, or preferential treatment. We only request we be included, ungrudgingly, in the pool from which the LAPD selects its best and its brightest. We bring to this process educational credentials and other qualifications that often exceed that of other groups, and we have been, to this point in time, excluded from service based solely on the personal prejudices and fundamentalist religious beliefs of the leadership of the LAPD. This has never been right, and the practice must not be allowed to continue.

In closing, I must say that I do not believe that everything about the LAPD is bad. I personally know many fine officers, some gay and lesbian, some not, and I'm sorry that their work has been hampered by public mistrust, and their spirits demoralized by the arrogance of power exhibited by a significant few.

But from my involvement in coalitions addressing the issue of police brutality, I have discovered that many of us see you as our last hope in this system. If you fail to recommend sweeping changes, I'm afraid that the anger brewing because of our powerlessness to effect change in the LAPD, or to even be heard by them, will surge forth in violence unlike anything we have seen since the Watts riots. As a citizen of this city I am frightened by how close we are to losing control, on both sides.

I do not envy your task. And I thank you for the opportunity to express my suggestions and my concerns. I only ask that you listen, really listen, to the people in this situation, because it's the people who are the victims, not the bureaucrats. No matter who wins the political & legal circus over this issue, whether Gates goes or stays, it's the citizenry who will lose unless you recommend sweeping changes to return the LAPD to its public service-oriented roots. It is my fervent hope, that you will be guided by the spirit of truth to arrive at recommendations that affirm the dignity, and ensure the security, of each and every citizen of Los Angeles. Thank you.

Donna J. Wade
Co-Chair, Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Police Advisory Task Force
May 29, 1991

 

 


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