The Los Angeles Police Department (usually known as the LAPD) is the police department of the City of Los Angeles, California. It is one of the largest law enforcement agencies in the world with over 9,000 officers and 3,000 civilian staff, covering an area of 467 miles² with a population of around 3.4 million. LAPD has had a rich and controversial history. The agency's exploits have been heavily fictionalized in Hollywood movies and television shows.

Compare Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department


The first specific Los Angeles police force was founded in 1853 as the Los Angeles Rangers, a volunteer force that assisted the existing County forces. The Rangers were soon succeeded by the Los Angeles City Guards, another volunteer group. Neither force was particularly efficient and Los Angeles became known for its violence, gambling and "vice".

The first paid force was not created until 1869 when a force of six officers under City Marshal William C. Warren were hired. Warren was shot by one of his officers in 1876 and to replace him the newly created Board of Police commissioners selected Jacob T. Gerkins, he was replaced within a year by saloon-owner Emil Harris, the second of fifteen Police Chiefs from 1876-89.

The first Chief to remain in office for any time was John M. Glass, appointed in 1889 he served for eleven years and was a driving force for increased professionalism in the force. By 1900 there were 70 officers, one for every 1,500 people, in 1903 with the start of the Civil Service this force was increased to 200, although training was not introduced until 1916. The rapid turnover of Chiefs was renewed in the 1900s as the office became increasingly politicized, from 1900 to 1923 there were sixteen different Chiefs. The longest lasting was Charles E. Sebastian who served from 1911-1915 before going on to become Mayor.

During WW I the force became involved with federal offenses and much of the force was organized into a special Home Guard. Post-war the department became highly corrupt along with much of the city government, this state lasted until the late 1930s. Two Police Chiefs, did work within a anti-corruption and reforming mandate, August Vollmer laid the ground for future improvements but served for only a single year. James E. Davis served from 1926-1931 and from 1933-1939, in his first term he fired almost a fifth of the force for bad conduct and instituted extended firearms training and also the dragnet system. In his second term Davis institued a "Red Squad" to attack Communists and their offices.

With the replacement of Mayor Frank L. Shaw the city gained a reformist Mayor in 1938 with Fletcher Bowron. He forced dozens of City commissioners out and over 45 LAPD officers. The modernizer Arthur C. Hohmann was made Chief in 1939. During the war the force was heavily depleted by the demands of the armed forces, new recruits were given only six weeks training (twelve was normal). Despite the attempts to maintain numbers the police could do little to control the 1943 Zoot Suit Riots.

In 1950 the LAPD gained a new Chief in William H. Parker. He served until his death in 1966, the longest period in office of any Chief. Fortunately for the LAPD Parker was an excellent leader, he reorganized the LAPD structurally but also in the demands he made of his force for honesty and discipline. The motto, "To Protect and to Serve" was introduced in 1955. During this period the LAPD set the standards of professionalism echoed in the contemporaneous TV series "Dragnet" and "Adam-12." The most serious challenge in this period was the 1965 Watts riots.

Parker was succeeded by Thomas Reddin in 1967. The outspoken Edward M. Davis became Chief in 1969, despite his occasional lapses he introduced a number of modern programs aimed at community policing as well as SWAT (1972); he retired in 1978.

The successor to Davis was Daryl F. Gates, he came into office just as Proposition 13 reduced the departments budget, cutting police numbers to under 7,000 in seven years just as drug and gang crime reached unprecedented highs. Gates retired in 1992 just after the Rodney King related rioting in April and the damaging Christopher Commission Report and was replaced by Willie L. Williams, the fiftieth Chief, the first black to hold the office and the first non-internal appointee for almost 40 years. In 1997, Williams was replaced by Bernard Parks, during whose term the LAPD was rocked by the Rampart Division corruption scandal. In 2002, William Bratton replaced Parks.

interim > Bernard C. Parks 1997 > interim > William J. Bratton 2002

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