Official Negligence: How Rodney King and the Riots Changed Los Angeles and the LAPD.
Official Negligence. How Rodney King and the Riots Changed Los Angeles and the LAPD is a book that every police executive and law enforcement manager should read. This book does not just rehash the incident that occurred in Los Angeles, California, on March 3, 1991. Instead, the author presents a story of political influences and policy decisions that directly impacted the incident and the rioting in the aftermath of the acquittal verdicts of the involved police officers.
Official Negligence takes a critical look at current law enforcement issues, such as police management, use-of-force considerations, community policing, tactical resource deployment, leadership, media influence, and relationships with city government. The title of the book refers to a quote from Ira Salzman, Sergeant Stacey Koon's attorney, who said at Koon's 1993 sentencing, "It was the city that failed.... It was police management, past and present that has failed.... There simply has to be some allowance for the official negligence of the city that allowed this to take place and that will take place again." Salzman referred, in part, to policy decisions that limited the LAPD's use-of-force options in dealing with Rodney King when they encountered him at the end of a high-speed traffic pursuit.
Prior to the Rodney King incident, the LAPD was criticized for deaths resulting from choke holds that officers used as one of their force options. As a result of several incidents and lawsuit settlements, the department banned the use of choke holds in Los Angeles. The remaining choices--verbal commands, the "swarm" technique of several officers wrestling the suspect to the ground, the PR-24 metal side handle baton and the Taser--all proved ineffective in subduing King. Yet, many people viewed the resulting video of all of the techniques used on King as strictly another case of police brutality.
The author illustrates each chapter as a progression of similar policy decisions that influenced proceeding events. He points out flaws in the leadership of Mayor Tom Bradley and Police Chief Darryl Gates as a major reason for lack of direction provided to line officers. Mayor Bradley and Chief Gates gave no foresight to probable outcomes of public unrest, despite pleas from police field supervisors and community leaders. A lack of appropriate community policing and community relations efforts accounted for smoldering, antipolice neighborhoods that erupted into rioting immediately following the 1992 Simi Valley acquittals. The author effectively presents cause and effect comparisons that led to the resulting rioting that accounted for 54 deaths, 2,328 injuries, and $900 million in property losses to Los Angeles.
Official Negligence is about Los Angeles and the specific events that led to the tragedy that occurred there. Yet, any law enforcement manager can learn from the pitfalls illustrated in the book and make comparisons to their own jurisdiction and choose to do a self-assessment in risk management.