Shielded from Justice: Police Brutality and Accountability in the United States
The Christopher Commission Report
In July 1991, some four months after the King beating, the Christopher Commission report was published. The commission, headed by attorney Warren Christopher (who later became U.S. Secretary of State), was created to conduct "a full and fair examination of the structure and operation of the LAPD," including its recruitment and training practices, internal disciplinary system, and citizen complaint system.11 Its investigation and report was unprecedented, reviewing a five-yearperiod of internal use of force reports, Mobile Digital Terminal (MDT) transmissions between squad cars and police stations, and eighty-three civil damages cases involving excessive force settled by the City Attorney for more than $15,000. The commission also held hearings and interviewed scores of officials and residents.
The following are, verbatim, some of the commission's findings:
There is a significant number of officers in the LAPD who repetitively use excessive force against the public and persistently ignore the written guidelines of the department regarding force.12
The failure to control these officers is a management issue that is at the heart of the problem. The documents and data that we have analyzed have all been available to the department; indeed, most of this information came from that source. The LAPD's failure to analyze and act upon these revealing data evidences a significant breakdown in the management and leadership of the Department. The Police Commission, lacking investigators or other resources, failed in its duty to monitor the Department in this sensitive use of force area. The Department not only failed to deal with the problem group of officers but it often rewarded them with positive evaluations and promotions.13
We recommend a new standard of accountability....Ugly incidents will not diminish until ranking officers know they will be held responsible for what happens in their sector, whether or not they personally participate."14
The commission highlighted the problem of "repeat offenders" on the force, finding that of approximately 1,800 officers against whom an allegation of excessive force or improper tactics was made from 1986 to 1990, more than 1,400 had only one or two allegations. But 183 officers had four or more allegations, forty-four had six or more, sixteen had eight or more, and one had sixteen such allegations. Generally, the forty-four officers with six complaints or more had received positive performance evaluations that failed to record "sustained" complaints or to discuss their significance.
© June 1998
Human Rights Watch