Report says police, city were unprepared for L.A. riots


LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Police Department and city officials were 'caught by surprise' at the outbreak of violence that followed the verdicts in the Rodney King trial and lacked a cohesive emergency plan to respond, a report released Wednesday showed.

The report, prepared by former FBI Director William Webster and former Newark, N.J., Police Chief Hubert Williams, found police and city officials lacked strong leadership, an appropriate emergency plan and adequate communications systems to react quickly and efficiently to the deadly riots that erupted April 29.


The study also found that the Police Department and city officials were slow to call in other agencies, including the National Guard and the Sheriff's Department, to help quell the mobs.

'Forces were assembled, but not effectively deployed to take control of mobs bent on violence, looting and destruction,' Webster told a news conference in downtown Los Angeles.


'Opportunities were lost while assembled officers waited for orders, ' he said. 'Firefighters lacked adequate protection within the early hours and were hampered in their efforts to stem the spread of fires that heightened the terror of the violence.'

Webster and Williams were appointed by the Police Commission in May to review the city's response to the riots. Joined by a volunteer staff of more than 100 people, the two men held seven community meetings and spent hours doing research to pull the 222-page report together.

The report laid much of the responsibility for the disastrous response on Police Chief Daryl Gates, who has since retired.

Gates, now a radio personality for KFI, told a news conference Webster and Williams were 'liars' because they reneged on a promise to show him the report before making it public.

The former chief on several occasions has admitted the department's response was slow, but insisted again Wednesday his officers did not take action because they were afraid of being seen as too aggressive.

'Clearly what we should have done that night...we should have blown a few heads off,' he said. 'Maybe that would have stopped everything.'

During the early hours of the riots, Gates was attending a political fund-raiser, key command officers had been allowed to go home at 4 p.m. and another group of ranking officers was away at a seminar.


Field officers were left with little or no direction. In South- Central Los Angeles, where looting and arson first broke out, officers were standing idle at command posts waiting for instructions, the report found.

'During the entire crisis, the chief of police appears never actively to have taken command of the department and its response, preferring to leave that critical responsibility in the hands of less experienced subordinates,' the report stated.

Webster said Gates did not have a plan to address the riots despite the chief's assurances to city officials that he was prepared.

'We looked at a wide range of manuals and tactical sheets, and in our view, this did not add up to the type of straight-forward, simple but complete plan that anticipated this kind of civil distrurbance,' Webster said.

Gates denied the charge, and waved a thick stack of papers at reporters that he said were copies of riot-related training excercises from July, 1991.

He also rebutted the report's claim that he refused help from outside law enforcement agencies during the early hours of the violence.

Nonetheless, he said: 'I thought we had an excellent plan and if it was properly executed, we could have controlled the thing ourselves.'


The riots broke out after a jury's partial acquittal of four white Los Angeles police officers who were videotaped beating black motorist King following a traffic stop on March 3, 1990.

The incident focused international attention on the LAPD and resulted in another critical report on the department prepared by a special commission headed by former diplomat Warren Christopher. The Christopher Commission was appointed by Mayor Tom Bradley.

That study confirmed reports of racism and excessive use of force within the department and presented a sweeping plan for reform.

The Webster report found morale in the Police Department suffered heavily after the Christopher Commission released its study. The force was still struggling with low morale and internal conflicts when a Simi Valley jury acquitted the four officers of most of the charges stemming from the King beating.

Rumblings in the community that any verdict might lead to violence had surfaced several weeks prior to the end of the trial. Yet despite the forewarnings, the Webster report found the LAPD and city officials failed to take appropriate actions.

'Despite the many months that passed between the beating and the trial ... city leaders and the LAPD commanders alike seem to have been caught by surprise as the lawlessness escalated following the verdict,' the report said.


During the three days of rioting that followed the verdict, more than 50 people died and damages reached an estimated $2 billion in the nation's worst case of urban violence this century.

The Webster report criticizes Mayor Bradley -- who ceased communicating with Gates for nearly a year after the King beating -- for not insisting on seeing an emergency response plan.

Webster said Wednesday that while Bradley did anticipate problems following the verdict and had taken steps to address the community's concerns, the mayor failed to assume his role as director of the city's Emergency Operations Organization.

Bradley, who is on an offiicial trip in Asia, released a statement orderingthe City Administrative Officer and all city department managers to develop a master plan for emergency preparedness.

Bradley did not address specific criticisms about his performance during the riots.

Webster said repeatedly during the news conference the report was not meant to 'point fingers.' Nonetheless, findings in the study clearly suggested Bradley, Gates, the City Council and the Police Commission failed to act in ways that would have greatly reduced the widespread violence.

The City Council, as well as the Police Commission and the mayor, was held responsible for failing to insist on being briefed on an emergency plan.


'Neither the mayor, the council, nor the Police Commission made any adequate efforts to determine if there really was a plan,' the report said. 'All appear to have simply accepted the chief's representations that his department was ready without further verifcation. In retrospect, all plainly had a duty to do more than this.'

Police Chief Willie Williams, who replaced Gates in June, said he is working on a riot response plan but said it is only partly complete.

'This department is better prepared than it was in April,' he said. 'I am using the criticism and the negatives as a stepping stone for positive change.'

The study outlines a list of recommendations including greater use of community-based policing and field patrols, more intensive planning with other agencies such as the Sheriff's Department and the military and increased funds for improved communications equipment and training.

'This city is still plagued by hostility, rage and resentment in many areas ... where minorities and economically deprived citizens believe the LAPD did not treat them with respect or extend the same level of protection as eleswhere,' Webster said. '(The riots) could happen again.'

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