Green Bay Police Chief remembers LA riots as turning point in community policing
Saturday marks the 25th anniversary of the Los Angeles riot sparked after the acquittal of four Los Angeles Police officers accused of brutally beating Rodney King.
Green Bay Police Chief Andrew Smith was just a few years into his career with the LAPD when that video surfaced, showing the officer beating King with a baton more than 50 times.
Smith remembers the event as a big wake up call for police officers everywhere and how it started to change community policing.
When Chief Smith joined the LAPD in the 1988, he said the department took pride in its reputation.
“We prided ourselves on the number of arrests we made, on the number of traffic stops we did, on the number of people we stopped and wrote tickets to,” said Chief Smith. “That was how we measured how good we were and if you didn't get 10 felony arrests a month, then you weren't pulling your weight.”
Chief Smith said the department was under-staffed as drugs and gang activity increased so they had to be consequently very aggressive, but he said that backfired and came to a head on April 29, 1992 when the cops were cleared of any wrongdoing against King.
“During the riots, we had people throwing rocks at us, bricks at us, everything they could. I was shot at twice,” said Chief Smith. “There were houses being burned down, buildings burned down, cops being assaulted, people being shot.”
Thousands of people looted local stores, grabbing everything in their path.
“We couldn't arrest them. We had no mechanism to capture them, let alone detain and prosecute them, so we ended up just kicking them out of the store, getting as much property back and locking the doors the best we could, but as soon as we left, people were back at it,” said Chief Smith. “And to see the whole city fall apart around us and recognize that we had some responsibility for what had happened I mean that is heartbreaking for a guy, I know many officers who just quit the department after that.”
Chief smith said it wasn't easy being a police officer in the days, months, even years after the Los Angeles Riots, but he believes it was a major turning point in policing and he hopes his experiences in LA has made him a better chief here in Green Bay.
“We can't rush into a neighborhood and take over and be the big blue machine that we used to call ourselves. We have to recognize the only way to truly do it effectively is to work with people together, to solve those problems together otherwise it's going to become and us against them,” said Chief Smith.
Friday night on WBAY, you'll find a 2 hour special about the Los Angeles riots detailing the tensions and civil unrest after the King verdict.