Less than half the rape suspects reported to police end in an arrest, two researchers found in a study of cases investigated by the Los Angeles Police Department and the LA County Sheriff’s Department during 2008. Detectives told the researchers they made arrest decisions based on perceptions about whether the suspect could be successfully prosecuted.
Police officers’ perceptions about the chances of a rape suspect being convicted can determine whether they actually make an arrest, concluded a California study which found that less than half the rape cases reported to law enforcement ended in an arrest.
The study, published in the Justice Quarterly this month, attributed the low number of arrests to police officers’ belief that a conviction was unlikely.
“Police officers view the decision to arrest as the first step in the process of securing a conviction in the case,” the study said. “And as a result (police) are reluctant to make arrests that are unlikely to lead to the filing of charges.”
The researchers, Cassia Spohn, a foundation professor and director of the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Arizona State University; and Katharine Tellis, Interim Director of the School of Criminal Justice and Criminalistics at California State University, analyzed data on sexual assaults reported to the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department in 2008.
They found that only 46.8 percent of rape cases reported ended in an arrest.
According to the authors, arresting and charging decisions in sexual assault cases are affected by “legally irrelevant indicators” such as the victim’s behavior at the time of the incident, her character, reputation, and motivation for reporting the crime to the police.
But under the Uniform Crime Reporting Handbook, law enforcement agencies can legally drop cases after an arrest. If the district attorney deems the evidence in the case insufficient to justify charging, police officers are able to end the investigation by “exceptional means,” the study said.
“This is what more typically happens,” added the study.
The authors argued that law enforcement in Los Angeles misused the “exceptional means” clearance of sexual assault cases in two important situations: when an arrest does not lead to the filing of felony charges, and when cases are rejected for prosecution during the pre-arrest charge evaluation.
“Whether a subject is arrested should not be contingent on whether the prosecuting attorney believes that the evidence meets the standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt and that the case would result in jury conviction,” the study said.
Doing so subjects the decision to arrest to a higher standard of proof than is required by law and effectively gives the prosecutor control over the decision to arrest, the authors noted.
When sexual assault charges did reach the district attorney, they were only filed six percent of the time if there was not a prior arrest, the study found.
But when there was a prior arrest, cases were filed 50 percent of the time.
Detectives acknowledged during interviews that their decisions on making an arrest were influenced by signals from the District Attorney’s office of whether a successful prosecution could be brought.
The study said this suggested that pre-arrest charge evaluation is being used not to ensure that “all of the i’s are dotted and t’s crossed, but to dispose of weak or problematic cases.”
The study also found that arrest was more likely if the crime was more serious, as measured by whether the suspect physically, as well as sexually, assaulted the victim, whether the suspect used a weapon, and whether the victim suffered some type of collateral injury.
Police were more likely to arrest the suspect if the victim reported the crime within one hour, if there was physical evidence from a crime scene, and if there were a number of witnesses, the report said.
As Beck prepares to retire after eight years, he leaves behind a police agency that has dramatically changed its image as an “occupying force” in the city’s black and brown neighborhoods, and become a national model for police reform, writes the author of two books about the LAPD.
Last Friday, Charlie Beck, the chief of the Los Angeles Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) called a press conference to announce his retirement after leading the department for eight years—forgoing the final two years of his contract in the process, and surprising almost everyone.
“One of the secrets of Bull Riding,” he said about his early departure, “is knowing when to get off the bull.” (He’ll continue to serve until June.)
And indeed the time was ripe for Beck, who’s going out on top.
A 40-year LAPD veteran, the 64-year-old Beck has taken the LAPD a long way down the road to the true cultural transformation of a department vilified world-wide for the televised beating of Rodney King, and the igniting two of the bloodiest riots/rebellions of the 20th Century.
Named chief in 2009, the tall, swarthy Beck brought to the dance a fierce determination to prevail, a quiet, mature professionalism that never called attention to himself, strong interpersonal skills and a willingness to work across lines and with critics, a sense of proportion and understanding of the possible, and superior big-picture observational intelligence and problem-solving skills. Much of which are now reflected in the department he was instrumental in philosophy and fundamentally reshaping, training and rebranding.
Equally important: he was a man of his time, a chief for his era in a Los Angeles undergoing dramatic change.
The son of a former LAPD assistant chief, Beck’s sister had also been an LAPD detective, his wife a Los Angeles County deputy sheriff and both his daughter and son are currently LAPD officers.
But despite what could have been a closed-circle life and career, Beck had both the instinct and insight to recognize the progressive winds of change blowing out of the New L.A. The city is now a multicultural sea of blacks, whites, Chicanos, Asians, and college-educated transplants from around the country and the world, living together with the first and second-generation sons and daughters of over a million immigrants from Latin America, East Asia and the Middle East who had begun arriving in the 1970s.
This recognition, along with the 1992 riots, and a streak of intuitive decency enabled Beck to go beyond the usual cop prejudiced and cynicism to really see his city, and to sense how they wanted to be policed, and what didn’t want.: A trigger-happy LAPD that took great pride in being arrogant and pugnacious; and reveled in shaking down and humiliating people color of as its sole modus operandi.
And like his mentor and predecessor as chief, Bill Bratton, Beck also understood that you’d never get a fair press if you hated the press and always showed it, could abide no criticism, and operated as if the department was unaccountable—which it then very often was.
So when Bratton—the ground-breaking, mid-1990s, media savvy reformer of the New York Police Department—was named chief in 2002, then-Capt. Charlie Beck listened closely, especially when Bratton forcefully told his commanders what he would demand from them: Innovation and creativity in reducing crime, and far, far better relations with the public, particularly those in the city’s black and brown communities.
Astutely, Beck then became among the first to seriously implement Beck’s priorities, and to and reap the rewards.
In little more than five years under Bratton, he would rise from field Captain to Chief of South Bureau, which covered 650,000 black and brown residents. There he showed his true reformist colors by meeting with ex-gang members who were trying to halt gang wars. First he acknowledged he would need their help in stopping the slaughter, and then worked with them to help establish a certificated gang intervention program for ex-gangsters called the Urban Peace Academy—a community policing outreach initiative that that is still successfully operating a generation later.
By the time Bratton resigned in 2009, Beck had become the chosen one to succeed him.
Walking a Beat in Watts
On his first full day as chief, Beck announced his intentions by walking a beat in Watts’ Jordan Downs housing project, the epicenter of the 1965 Watts’ Riots and home of the Grape Street Crips, one of the most fearsome gangs in South L.A. There he greeted residents, shaking hands with people who despised the LAPD, while arranging basketball games between his cops against neighborhood teams—a few of which he actually played in.
Soon he formed special units to work in Jordan Downs and other high-crime housing projects in an innovative community-policing program called Community Safety Partnership Police.
The unit’s cops, all volunteers who had also trained at the Urban Police Academy, were committed to working in a particular housing project for five years. They would be judged not by arrest numbers (which had long been the LAPD’s gauge of success) but by how effectively they strengthened and stabilized each of the housing projects; and kept crime and violence low through gaining the community’s trust, partnership, and support; while working with the projects’ kids and families to keep them out of the crushing jaws of California’s notorious criminal justice system.
Like the department’s other community outreach programs none of these efforts were any panacea. They started at the height of the Great Recession when money was extremely tight; required an intense investment in scarce manpower, and remain hard to replicate in a city that sprawls over 450 miles. But they still exist, within the department’s wider philosophical context.
In addition, Beck began forging ties with the city’s Latinos and other immigrant communities, lobbying for driver’s licenses for undocumented residents and stopping impounding cars driven by those license-less immigrants, saving them hundreds or thousands of dollars in towing and impoundment fees in the process.
Meanwhile, following a national trend, the number of homicides in the city began to significantly decrease on his watch, as did officer-involved shootings. Still the latter remained disproportionally high compared to New York and other cities; and a number of them seemed so avoidable that the public became outraged.
This became a real issue in his second term.
Body Cameras for All
In response, Beck worked with a liberal police commission and assisted in getting by-in from the department’s conservative union to equip every officer with body cameras, and to change the department’s previously broadly-defined shooting policy, to one that now emphasizes the de-escalation of potentially deadly situations, and use of smart tactics to avoid situations where an officer places himself in harm’s way and feels he has no alternative but to shot someone.
I don’t mean to paint an idyllic picture of either Beck or the current LAPD. Big city policing in the unjust society we live in is often a dirty business. It is what it is. But now that bad policing has become widely recognized since the 2014 police killings of Michael Brown and Eric Gardner, good policing and police leadership has to be summarily recognized.
It’s heartening now to live in a city whose police department that sincerely has as its goal becoming L.A.’s “guardians” and helping to strengthen communities of as opposed to rolling through them like an occupying force and arresting everybody in sight.
And it’s nice to view the front page of the Los Angeles Times and not daily see outrage after outrage committed by the LAPD, or the face of a chief of police throwing a tantrum or picking a fight.
And that’s why LA is now celebrating Charlie Beck.
He’s been a respected national leader in supporting progressive police and criminal justice reform. In 2016, Beck went to the White House with 130 other law enforcement leaders to meet with President Barack Obama. The topic was the future of criminal justice, and it was Beck who was chosen to speak with the president on the group’s behalf.
And he was the first big police leader to publicly state that his police department would not be cooperating with Donald Trump’s immigration officers in rounding up undocumented workers and students and breaking up families.
True, transformative cultural reform is a process many police critics fail to understand. It takes a generation, maybe longer, of sustained, unremittingly determined leadership
All have been hallmarks of Beck’s and Bratton’s leadership in Los Angeles.
They’ve not only been steps in the right direction, but also rare, hopeful advances in the world of criminal justice, where progressive reform moves at a snail’s pace and mean justice takes place overnight.
Beck would signal the best of his intentions. At the same time the LAPD’s gang-injunction policing would continue unabated under Beck. According to the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office, as of 2015 there were “more than forty-six permanent gang injunctions in place in the city of Los Angeles.”
Many people and factors have contributed the LAPD’s transformation, but it’s hard to underestimate Beck’s role.
Joe Domanick, Associate Director of the Center on Media, Crime and Justice at John Jay College, and West Coast bureau chief of The Crime Report, is the author of two books on the LAPD. His first, “To Protect and to Serve,” was published in 1994.His latest book, “Blue: The LAPD and the Battle to Redeem American Policing,” is now out in paperback. Joe welcomes readers’ comments.
Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer says the Chesapeake Apartments, plagued by violent crime for decades, are a serious threat to public safety. He is suing to prompt safety improvements, and he says owner of the complex should be ordered to live there until the problems are resolved.
The Chesapeake Apartments, a 425-unit complex spread over more than 17 acres in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Baldwin Village, has been plagued by violent crime for decades, says the Los Angeles Times. The Black P-Stone gang is so deeply entrenched there, officials said, that its members have tattoos that reference the property. Now, prosecutors are targeting the property’s owners and managers to curb the crime. In a lawsuit announced Monday, City Attorney Mike Feuer alleged that their mismanagement has resulted in a “serious threat” to public safety and created an environment in which anyone who comes near the property is at risk of being a crime victim. Feuer thinks that the head of the complex, Swaranjit Nijjar, should be ordered to live on the property until the problems are resolved. The lawsuit says Nijjar is the CEO of the company that’s the sole general partner of Pama V Properties LP, which owns the property.
“Negligent, callous management has allowed the Chesapeake Apartments to become a hotbed of terror in this neighborhood,” Feuer said in a statement. “We’ll continue to hold property owners responsible for these harrowing conditions as we take back our communities.” Feuer’s lawsuit seeks an injunction banning gang activity on the property, as well as a string of property improvements, including secure fencing, a video monitoring system accessible by the LAPD, improved lighting, better screening of tenants and the presence of full-time armed, licensed security guards. A spokesman for the owner said the complex seeks to provide “clean, safe, affordable housing.” He added, “Somebody’s got to provide it. The city can’t. The city’s the worst slumlord.”
A Los Angeles entertainment lawyer has turned the city’s police commission into a force for addressing police abuse. His first goal: reducing the officer-involved shootings that have become the civil rights issue of the 21st century for young African Americans through “de-escalation” strategies.
It’s 11 a..m. on a Tuesday last March, and Matthew Johnson, the president of the Los Angeles Police Commission, is seated front and center with the four other part-time civilian commissioners in a large theater-style meeting room at the LAPD’s headquarters downtown.
On today’s agenda is approval of a potentially historic new policy intended to decrease the high number of LAPD shootings.
But as has been the case for years now, the angry, overwhelmingly black, overflow crowd is hurling obscenity-laden invective at the commission—and particularly at Johnson, who is also African American. One person tells him to “shut the fuck up!;” another keeps calling him “house Negro.”
Johnson knew that he had a difficult road ahead when Mayor Eric Garcetti asked him to join the commission in 2015. But after seeing protests over police shootings and abuse explode across the nation in 2014, he felt compelled to take the post, which is unpaid and part-time: Police abuse had become the civil rights issue of the 21st century for young African Americans. Johnson wanted to change that dynamic, and the commission was the best way to go about doing that.
“Even before I accepted this position,” he says, “I started doing a lot of research on police reform. And I found that Los Angeles was unique in the way civilian oversight is structured and that a civilian can actually come in and make a real difference.
“There’s no other civilian commission—certainly in any medium or large city—that has the resources and the power we do to make change.”
That wasn’t always the case.
A holdover from the good government Progressive era of Teddy Roosevelt, the five-member Los Angeles Police Commission is tasked with setting LAPD policy and monitoring its implementation. But between 1950 and the 1992 riots, the commission rarely had the stomach to challenge the department, despite appalling numbers of unarmed civilians being killed by officers too quick to pull the trigger or to apply choke holds using their batons.
In fact, the commission allowed former police chief Daryl Gates, whose egregious leadership was essentially responsible for the beating of Rodney King and the riots that followed, to write his own civil service evaluations—all of them positive.
Gates was nonetheless forced to retire after the riots, and the commissioners effectively fired the next two chiefs, who in their collective ten years on the job failed to make the lasting changes the city was so desperate for. A new period of genuine reform followed with police chief William Bratton and his successor, current chief Charlie Beck.
Since the nationwide protests in 2014 over police shootings and abuse, the commission has been seeking yet more fundamental change. In 2015, under then president Steve Soboroff, it mandated the use of body cameras for officers and dash cams in patrol cars—important steps in assuring officer accountability, especially with shootings.
Since becoming president in 2015, Johnson has been pursuing changes to the use-of-force policy in an effort to reduce shootings.
A 49-year-old father of four, he is a managing partner at the entertainment law firm of Ziffren Brittenham. While he doesn’t talk much about the strains that come with his work on the commission, he’s clearly paid a personal price for taking it on. Black Lives Matter protestors have picketed his Sherman Oaks residence and barged into his Sherman Oaks office, and he got a restraining order against an activist who showed up at his home after he had commented on one of Johnson’s sons during a tirade at a commission meeting (a remark Johnson declines to discuss today).
The March commission meeting took place shortly after, and the policy change it yielded marks the crowning achievement of Johnson’s two-year stint as president, which comes to an end in a month or so.
“Upon my appointment I knew I had a limited window as commission president to work through my agenda,” he says. “I believe that the ticking clock actually helped me stay focused.”
It was a long haul to get to this point. Johnson grew up working class in the segregated New Jersey town of Highland Park. His father was a firefighter; his mother, a schoolteacher. She pushed him toward success and fought hard to ensure that her son got into those AP classes that helped him earn acceptance at Rutgers University.
As a kid, Johnson learned that simply walking or riding his bike could mean being stopped and questioned by the police, but it wasn’t until he was in college that he experienced the peril that comes with being a young black man in America.
He was driving home on a cold winter night, doing the speed limit as cars whizzed by him on the New Jersey Turnpike, when state troopers pulled him over without cause and handcuffed him on the side of the road.
Refusing his pleas to let him put on a jacket, the police insisted he was ferrying drugs and searched his car.
All Johnson kept thinking was, “Please, Lord, don’t let them plant drugs on me.”
He’s carried that memory with him to this day, though he’s quick to note that he met many good cops through his father.
While attending law school at New York University, he fell in with a group that remains tight to this day. “All of us were incredibly poor graduate students—young men of color from humble beginnings who recognized our commonality,” says Dean Garfield, now the president and CEO of the Information Technology Industry Council.
“We saw values in each other we wanted to emulate, and in the process became a support system for each other’s success.”
Johnson moved to L.A. two weeks after the ’92 riots, knowing nobody but sure he wanted to be an entertainment lawyer. Twenty-five years later, he’s counted Oprah Winfrey, Serena Williams, Forest Whitaker, and Sacha Baron Cohen among his clients.
Making partner at any high-powered law firm can mean putting in hundred-hour weeks, but Johnson didn’t want to give up the community work he’d begun in law school. For the past 20 years he’s volunteered with Boys and Girls clubs, serving as their board president and as a national trustee.
His wife, the documentary filmmaker and activist Yasmine Johnson, runs the Alliance of Moms, a nonprofit focused on serving pregnant and parenting teens in L.A.’s overwhelmed foster care system.
Johnson respected the difficulty of being a cop but had ideas about how policing could be done differently. After taking over as president, he spelled them out by writing a public assessment-slash-manifesto about the department and where he intended to focus.
A primary goal: reducing those officer-involved shootings.
So Johnson turned to best-practices literature. “He reads everything,” says Soboroff. “He’s a lawyer. He’s not looking at the yellow highlights in a report. And he knows what he doesn’t know. That’s really valuable.”
Johnson and the commission settled on a de-escalation policy advocated by the Obama administration’s Justice Department.
“What de-escalation acknowledges is something that has been apparent in policing forever: What you do at the beginning of a situation often controls its outcome,” Charlie Beck recently told me.
“We see situations where officers have no choice but to use deadly force. But had they been more skilled a few minutes earlier—in their tactics and communication skills—it might have never gotten to the point where deadly force had to be used.”
This is especially true when dealing with the mentally ill homeless or distraught people who can be talked down by officers who’ve taken precautions to take themselves out of immediate danger.
Johnson also needed to learn the lay of the land and build support from a long list of players: the mayor’s office, the chief of police, disparate community-advocacy groups, the LAPD command staff, and the LAPD’s politically powerful rank-and-file union, the Los Angeles Police Protective League.
In the months before the vote, the league had been publicly blasting Johnson, warning that he was going to have blood on his hands if the policy passed. To get their sign-off, “Matt had to spend a lot of time doing things where there was no glory,” says fellow police commissioner Shane Goldsmith.
“He was very disciplined at getting input and analysis—from the people around him, from stakeholders directly impacted, from the inspector general, from all different sources—and in finding where there was room for compromise while still creating a viable new policy. It was really an extraordinary accomplishment.”
Technically Johnson and the commission didn’t need the league’s approval, but long-lasting cultural change—particularly on an issue that can affect officers’ lives and careers—almost demanded it; there are too many ways cops can ignore, sabotage, and/or get around such a controversial policy shift. The league’s imprimatur would mean acceptance by cops on the street—grudgingly, perhaps, but acceptance all the same.
“There’s the political ability to get something done and the practical reality on the ground,” Johnson says. In this case, “if officers feel like they are under attack, they’ll stop policing. That’s not accomplishing the goals.
“I want them to embrace the policy so they can still do their jobs effectively in a way that is safer for the community. So buy-in from the union was big. At the end of the day, this was not an intellectual exercise.”
The payoff, says Beck, is that “now officers will be required to do everything they can to de-escalate a tense situation.”
One group that Johnson couldn’t keep on board was the ACLU, which withheld its support essentially over one word: de-escalation tactics must be used only when “possible.”
(Johnson contends the ACLU didn’t understand the way the policy works.)
So far the policy seems to be taking hold. The commission and Beck have established exercises in which officers act out specific scenarios as part of their de-escalation training, and the department is in the process of equipping every patrol car with less lethal options, such as beanbag shotguns.
Meanwhile, Johnson tells me, the commission is conducting a review aimed at expanding the release of videotaped use-of-force incidents to the public. And those body-cameras will be fully deployed by the first quarter of next year.
That isn’t soon enough for activists, who still crowd the police commission meetings, but Johnson isn’t one to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. He’s got three years left on the commission, he says, “and I plan on staying actively engaged in seeing my initiatives through.”
Joe Domanick is West Coast editor of The Crime Report. The original version of the story appeared in Los Angeles Magazine. He welcomes comments from readers.
The latest changes, part of a broader push to reform the Los Angeles Police Department, stem from a 49-page analysis by the city’s inspector general.
Los Angeles police commissioners approved a wide-ranging set of recommendations on Tuesday that called on the LAPD to improve how it guards against possible racial bias by officers, strengthen community policing and evaluate the department’s discipline system, reports the Los Angeles Times. The 25 recommendations are part of the civilian panel’s broader push to reform the LAPD, which has included significant adjustments to how officers are trained and when they are allowed to use force. In voting for the latest changes, commissioners expanded their focus to other areas, including how the department disciplines and deploys officers.
The changes stemmed from a 49-page analysis by Inspector General Alex Bustamante, whose office compared the LAPD’s practices with two national reports that have drawn significant attention within policing: one from then-President Obama’s task force on 21st century policing and another from the Police Executive Research Forum in a Washington, D.C. Police Chief Charlie Beck, a longtime member of PERF, noted that the LAPD has helped develop some of the national guidelines. “The Los Angeles Police Department, I think, is a very reform-minded department. Do we always achieve that in practice? Well, no. Nobody’s perfect,” he told reporters. “But we certainly strive for it.”
T.J. Miller plays a deliciously snarky, self-obsessed stoner on HBO’s send-up of the narcissistic tech world, Silicon Valley. Erlich Bachman, Miller’s depiction of a low-rent tech guru, is the kind of guy who might slap an Uber driver after debating the potential impact of President-Elect Donald Trump. And that’s what reportedly happened early today. Cops […]
T.J. Miller plays a deliciously snarky, self-obsessed stoner on HBO’s send-up of the narcissistic tech world, Silicon Valley. Erlich Bachman, Miller’s depiction of a low-rent tech guru, is the kind of guy who might slap an Uber driver after debating the potential impact of President-Elect Donald Trump. And that’s what reportedly happened early today.
A 17-year-old girl was booked on suspicion of murder in connection with the brutal stabbing of a 22-year-old pregnant woman on a bustling Venice street last month. The suspect turned herself in at the Los Angeles Police Department’s Olympic Division station over the weekend, according to Officer Jenny Houser. Police don’t usually name suspects who […]
A suspected member of a Jamaican gang potentially faces a death penalty case in connection with a quadruple murder at a makeshift eatery in West Adams. Marlon Jones, whose aliases range in age from 35 to 41, was captured Friday, a day after the FBI placed him on its 10 Most Wanted list. Prosecutors said […]
A woman who was reported to be three months pregnant was fatally stabbed on a bustling street in Venice last night. The attack by two women and a man followed a fight, apparently in the street, on Windward Avenue, the epicenter of Venice’s tourist scene, according to police. Officers were called to Windward and Pacific […]
Earlier this month protesters descended on downtown Los Angeles after Donald Trump was elected president. Few, it seems, were surprised by that (or by subsequent protests) in a state where 61.5 percent of voters went for Hillary Clinton. What was surprising to most of the planet, even to the candidate himself, was that Trump won. […]
Earlier this month protesters descended on downtown Los Angeles after Donald Trump was elected president. Few, it seems, were surprised by that (or by subsequent protests) in a state where 61.5 percent of voters went for Hillary Clinton. What was surprising to most of the planet, even to the candidate himself, was that Trump won.