Baton usage by L.A. police down 92% since King beating

March 05, 1995|By Los Angeles Daily News

LOS ANGELES -- In the four years since Los Angeles Police Department officers were captured on videotape beating Rodney King with their batons, use of the once-popular weapon has dropped sharply, LAPD use-of-force records obtained by the Los Angeles Daily News show.

Baton use reached an eight-year low last year, figuring in just 41 arrests -- a 92 percent drop from 1990, when batons were used 501 times against suspects resisting arrest, according to Los Angeles Police Department figures.

Officers are no longer relying on their batons in large part because of the department's adoption of pepper spray, a cayenne pepper-based agent that leaves most suspects temporarily blinded and gasping, LAPD officials say.

Longtime critics of the LAPD such as the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California say that they welcome the evidence that officers are using batons less frequently.

"I want to be clear that the baton is a legitimate weapon when used correctly. But the fact is this department long has had a reputation for overdoing it," said ACLU spokesman Alan Parachini.

"I think it would be very healthy if it turns out that LAPD officers had profound second thoughts about the abandon with which they beat people in the wake of the King beating," Mr. Parachini said.

But rank-and-file police leaders claim that the trend is chiefly the result of officers' fear that they could be fired or sued -- or even jailed -- for wielding the potentially bone-breaking weapon.

"I know officers that won't even take it out of their car. They're afraid to use it," said Dennis Zine, a director of the Los Angeles Police Protective League. "The poor cops on the street are saying you haven't given us anything we feel confident in to do your job."

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