Twenty-five years after the riots burned through Los Angeles, pitting ethnic groups against one another and what seemed to be an entire city against the police, a new survey by Loyola Marymount University has found that a new dawn is upon us: "Angelenos trust the LAPD more than any other local institution," according to a statement from the school.
In the survey, 58 percent of respondents said they trusted the Los Angeles Police Department "to do what is right." That percentage was the highest positive response among the institutions measured, including the federal government, state government, city government, the Department of Water & Power, the news media, L.A. public schools, labor unions and religious institutions.
"It's a solid B grade for the LAPD," says Fernando Guerra, director of LMU's Center for the Study of Los Angeles. "That's a long way from 1992, which was an F-minus."
The acquittal of four LAPD officers charged with beating motorist Rodney King sparked unrest on April 29, 1992. And for some, the department's response to that unrest was nearly as outrageous as those acquittals. Police Chief Daryl Gates, who would retire in disgrace months later, reportedly was incommunicado at a Westside fundraiser at the start of the uprising. The epicenter of the riots, Florence and Normandie avenues, was abandoned by cops for hours as fires raged and people were beaten.
Though trust in police appears to have increased overall since then, African-Americans have the lowest trust in cops of any racial or ethnic group surveyed. While 69 percent of whites and 68 percent of Asian-Americans said they trust local police to do what is right, only 39 percent of black Angelenos said the same. Latinos came in at 54 percent.
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"Nearly twice as many whites and Asians trust the LAPD compared to African-Americans," says Brianne Gilbert, associate director of the center. "Conservatives are more trusting than moderates and liberals."
Even with today's stark, historic disparity between rich and poor in Los Angeles, the seething animus that was just beneath the surface in some neighborhoods in the months leading up to the 1992 riots just doesn't seem to exist today, Guerra says. "You don't see that anger among ethnic groups," he says. "Increased disparity isn't impacting relations when it comes to the LAPD."
Angelenos now have a more strained relationship with the news media than with the police. Among institutions included in the survey, the media fared the worst when it comes to trust. Nearly one out of five respondents said the news business does what is right "none of the time," according to LMU.
Guerra said the Trust in Institutions survey of 1,200 respondents was conducted in January and February, a time when the media was being criticized for its coverage of the presidential election. "Election coverage was top-of-mind for many people," he says.