L.A. police brutality reports rose in 5-year span

LOS ANGELES — LOS ANGELES -- Citizen complaints about excessive force by Los Angeles Police Department officers jumped by 33 percent from 1984 to 1989, and more than $3.5 million in tax money was paid last year to settle 16 lawsuits involving bodily injury claims of assaults or shootings by officers.

In addition, taxpayers have been forced to hand over millions of dollars more in property damage cases in which, for example, apartments were ransacked but no evidence was found to justify an arrest.


The March 3 videotaped beating of Rodney Glenn King by at least three Los Angeles officers, which has drawn national attention, is too recent to have been included in these statistics.

Police Chief Daryl F. Gates raised questions last week about the frequency of excessive force cases against Los Angeles Police Department by claiming that the beating of Mr. King was an aberration. On Friday, Chief Gates acknowledged there were other incidents but said the number of those cases "are minuscule, absolutely minuscule."


The Police Department reported receiving 187 complaints of excessive force by police officers in 1984, compared with 250 in 1989, the last year for which complete statistics are available.

Among the bodily injury financial settlements, which were approved by the City Council last year, the largest is a payment of $1.8 million in a case involving the shooting of a civilian.

Records show the council also approved settlements totaling more than $800,000 in various incidents in which citizens claimed that they were beaten or physically assaulted by police officers.

The council also has approved millions of dollars in settlements in cases in which property was damaged by officers in searches but people were not injured.

In one of those property damage cases, the city agreed last year to pay $3 million to 52 residents of an apartment complex in South Central Los Angeles that was ransacked by police during a search in 1988.

"There are cases of excessive force that we have dealt with as long as I can remember," Chief Gates said Friday. "But they are not in the numbers that they [critics] are talking about. They are not the usual thing."

Los Angeles Police Department spokesman Fred Nixon agreed with Chief Gates, saying that the beating of Mr. King, which allegedly followed a high-speed chase, was unique because of the number of officers involved and the force used.

"Absolutely, it's an aberration," Mr. Nixon said. "I am certain that none of those other cases are comparable to the incident."


Mr. Nixon said many of the complaints prove to be unfounded by internal investigations. But he could not explain why there has been an increase in such complaints.

The growing number of public complaints has concerned members of the Los Angeles City Council, which has to authorize the settlements for cases that go to court.

City Council members say the fact that Mr. King, who is black, was beaten by white officers fuels concern about racism in the police department.

"There's no question there's a disproportionate amount of minorities [in police brutality incidents]," said Zev Yaroslavsky, who chairs a committee that approves settlements in excess force cases. "There's a genuine issue that needs to be addressed here."

Mr. Yaroslavsky and others say past incidents, together with the beating of Mr. King, have caused them to be concerned enough to want a full investigation of how much force police may use.