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The Los Angeles Police Department: Then and Now

The Los Angeles Police Department is one of the most famous and admired police forces in the world. Frequently the subject of movies and television shows, The LAPD has long set a standard of excellence for police training and performance. In fact, the history of the Los Angeles Police Department, greatly influences the history of the City of Los Angeles and law enforcement nationwide. Always exciting and frequently controversial, the City of Los Angeles was incorporated in 1850 with 5,728 residents, and for the first 25 years, violence and unbridled lawlessness were commonplace, as was the case in many other towns in the "wild west". The opportunity to acquire sudden wealth, together with the absence of sorely needed laws and an adequate number of police officers, offered an open invitation to bandits, gunslingers, gamblers and con-artists of every variety. However, a degree of maturity was attained by the city with the establishment in 1869 of the first paid police force made up of six officers, and the City Marshal William C. Warren.

As you can imagine, that was a lot to handle for such a small police force. Over the years, both the size and population of Los Angeles continued to grow. The police Department expanded as well. By 1881 it had its first traffic squad. By the turn of the century, Los Angeles Policemen were referred to as "The Pride of the State." Sworn Personnel in 1897 totaled 93 with 69 officers assigned to patrol duties. LAPD had begun to integrate itself into the fabric of Los Angeles. In 1910, it hired the first woman police officer in the nation, Alice Stebbins Wells, who continued to work on the force for 30 years.

As time marched on, demands on the Department intensified. William H. Parker inherited many of the ills born during the Depression and war years of the 1930s and 1940s when he assumed the office of Chief in 1950. If the Department truly deserves the reputation it enjoys as the world's finest, the credit, unquestionably, reflects the policies and procedures implemented by Chief Parker.

A "policeman's policeman" in every sense of the word, Chief Parker inspired in all who served the Department, not only the highest ideals of serving and justice, but also a new sense of professionalism. Following Chief Parker's untimely death in 1966, the Administrative Building was renamed Parker Center.

In mid-1992 there was a change of leadership, and Willie L. Williams was appointed Chief of Police after a series of incidents that caused the people and the leaders of the City to fundamentally re-examine and modernize Police Department policies, training methods, and personnel practices. Chief Williams' tenure was marked by the implementation of the Community Policing model, which focused on Community - Police Problem Solving by front line officers.

Before the expiration of Chief Williams' term, Chief Bayan Lewis was appointed as the interim Chief of Police. His brief tenure was marked by acquisition of better firearms for officers to use to protect the public and Chief Lewis paved the way for the new Chief of Police, 32- year LAPD veteran Bernard C. Parks.

During the first three years, Chief Parks cut significant layers of bureaucracy, introduced new systems of accountability to professional standards, and moved rapidly toward his vision of Community Government. Renewed emphasis on gang intervention, juvenile intervention, employee training and discipline, improved weaponry, and developing dynamic partnerships with the business community and public officials were a handful among many accomplishments.

After one year, Chief Bratton realized what every Chief of Police has complained of since 1870.the department is greatly understaffed! With that, he and Mayor Villaraigosa set forth to boost sworn deployment to 10,000 officers.

Chief Bratton retired from his post in October 2009, leaving a much advanced and much improved Department behind. The Chief's accomplishments include technological advances and organizational changes, which again brought LAPD into the forefront of American law enforcement. For the citizens of LA, Chief Bratton was the right Chief at the right time. His year after year crime reductions helped to make LA a very safe big city. Likewise, his stunning crime reduction results proved that his systems and methods worked.

Today, the City of Los Angeles is one of the most ethnically and geographically diverse cities in the country. Its residents speak 224 languages and live in diverse communities. LAPD Officers, are sworn to protect and to serve the more than 3 million residents of the City of Los Angeles. Their jurisdiction is the sprawling 465 square miles of the City. (Police services for the rest of Los Angeles County are provided by the LA County sheriffs and 44 other police forces representing the other cities within the county.)

In order to effectively meet the needs of all of the city's residents, LAPD Officers work out of 18 divisions around the city. They speak over 30 languages and have access to interpreters 24 hours a day to reach citizens in additional languages. They patrol in cars, boats, helicopters, and on bikes, horseback and on foot. There are even LAPD SCUBA divers and climbers.

The current chief, Charlie Beck, was appointed on November 17th, 2009 - and is the 55th LAPD Chief of Police. Another veteran LAPD Deputy Chief, and second-generation command officer, Charlie Beck oversees a very dynamic Department of nearly 10,000 officers (two of whom are his children) and approximately 3.000 non-sworn employees.

For more information on the LAPD and its history, visit the Los Angeles Police Historical Society or log on to

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