LAPD chief, LASD sheriff discuss 'lessons learned' from LA riots

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- The Los Angeles Police Department was put under a microscope in 1992 after the violent arrest of Rodney King and the way officers handled protests a year later.

Law enforcement leaders are using those lessons to make Southern California better and safer today through new police procedures.

"The first thing that comes to my mind is the trip that I took from Parker Center over there, down to the command post at Van Ness Street. And as we went down Western to get there, there was fire on both sides, you know, and I realized then that I was watching my city burn," recalled LAPD Chief Charlie Beck.

MORE: 1992 L.A. riots: 25 years later

Two of the most powerful law enforcement leaders in the country, Beck and Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell, recounted the day their city crumbled in front of them.

Both were sergeants in the LAPD 25 years ago, during the infamous 1992 L.A. riots that followed the Rodney King verdict.

Beck was in internal affairs and McDonnell was in homicide. Both were familiar with Florence and Normandie.

MORE: Man nearly killed in 1992 LA riots recalls being rescued by pastor

"I had worked this area, 77th, for a period of time in the late 80s, and so I knew the streets," McDonnell said. "I knew a lot of the people in this community right here."

The sheriff said violence was at its peak in 1992. Back then, the city had 1,094 murders.

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Twenty-seven years before the L.A. riots, Beck said Watts exploded under similar circumstances, with feelings of distrust and helplessness.

Watts and '92 delivered hard lessons. Changes came as the LAPD tore down the walls between the department and the people.

"Relationship-based policing is exactly what it sounds like -- it is building relationships with individuals that transcend the organizations of involvement," Beck said. "You have to police with people, you can't police over people."

They're lessons that helped L.A. in 2014, when the nation was incensed over Ferguson.

"You know, I think any city is capable of what happened in Ferguson, in Baltimore, in New York and so many other cities across America. I feel that we're fortunate here because of what happened in 1992. Police-community relations was a major focus for us, and we built bridges where we didn't have them before," shared McDonnell.

MORE: Key moments from 1992 LA riots

Twenty-five years later, the two former sergeants are taking those lessons from Watts, '92 and Ferguson and using them to lead L.A. into the future.

"Every day I learn new things, and I try to capture those and be able to benefit with future decisions based on what happened in the past," McDonnell added.

Beck said although there are always lessons to learn, progress has been made.

"I'm very proud of where we are," he said. "Recognizing we have a ways to go and nothing is ever finished, but is this the same police department as 1992? Not even close."
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