Policing Los Angeles: Race, Resistance, and the Rise of the LAPD

Policing Los Angeles: Race, Resistance, and the Rise of the LAPD

Policing Los Angeles: Race, Resistance, and the Rise of the LAPD

Policing Los Angeles: Race, Resistance, and the Rise of the LAPD


When the Los Angeles neighborhood of Watts erupted in violent protest in August 1965, the uprising drew strength from decades of pent-up frustration with employment discrimination, residential segregation, and poverty. But the more immediate grievance was anger at the racist and abusive practices of the Los Angeles Police Department. Yet in the decades after Watts, the LAPD resisted all but the most limited demands for reform made by activists and residents of color, instead intensifying its power.

In Policing Los Angeles, Max Felker-Kantor narrates the dynamic history of policing, anti-police abuse movements, race, and politics in Los Angeles from the 1965 Watts uprising to the 1992 Los Angeles rebellion. Using the explosions of two large-scale uprisings in Los Angeles as bookends, Felker-Kantor highlights the racism at the heart of the city's expansive police power through a range of previously unused and rare archival sources. His book is a gripping and timely account of the transformation in police power, the convergence of interests in support of law and order policies, and African American and Mexican American resistance to police violence after the Watts uprising.


“A strong, visible police force is one of our best crime-fighting tools,” said Los Angeles’s liberal African American mayor, Tom Bradley, in 1990. in remarks delivered alongside his proposed budget for the year, Bradley committed to providing the department with the resources to effectively combat crime and violence. “Through the use of mobile booking units, horse-mounted police officers and other high-profile deployment strategies, the police are waging an all-out war on crime,” he told reporters. “I want to give them the personnel to escalate our attack.” Police were the first line of defense against crime and violence, Bradley argued, and they needed all the resources and manpower at the city’s disposal to ensure public safety, combat criminals, and maintain social order. Bradley made his administration’s position clear: “The city has made our blue-uniformed officers the number-one priority.”

Between the 1960s and 1990s, a broad coalition of lawmakers, criminal justice administrators, and police officials advocated expanding the funding and manpower of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) as it fought a war on crime. a force of roughly 5,200 officers in 1960 grew to 8,414 officers in 1990, a per capita increase from 2.1 to 2.4 officers per 1,000 residents. Yet as Bradley’s budget remarks suggested, he was still unsatisfied with the state of the police department. in fact, he vowed to do everything within his power to expand the department by 400 additional officers. Even when a recession in the Southern California economy subsequently led to revenue shortfalls and budget cuts, Bradley and other lawmakers pledged to identify additional funding for the police and called on the federal government to provide support for the city’s “continuing fight against crime.”

But Bradley hoped to accomplish something else as well. Like many mayors across the country confronting the conservative political context of the 1970s and 1980s, Bradley faced pressure to embrace the police to ensure law and order. Though Bradley wanted to contain crime and maintain order, at the same time he intended to rein in abusive police practices by using the regulatory power of the state to assert control over the police department. Yet, contrary to what he and other similarly minded city officials hoped, by the 1990s this approach to reform wound up providing the police with more power and authority. in spite of lawmakers’ efforts and Bradley’s antagonistic . . .

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