LOS ANGELES, Calif.--There's a killer on the loose and Los Angeles is on edge--again.
This jaded city has witnessed every variety of killing, from Charles Manson and his helter-skelter spree to the Night Stalker's deadly nocturnal prowling and the random strikes of the Hillside Stranger, the Freeway Killer and the Grim Sleeper.
This one is different: The suspect is an ex-cop with an ax to grind, and he's allegedly targeting other cops. This one crosses the blue line, the one cops think separates the good guys from the bad.
This one picks at one of L.A.'s barely healed scabs, the scandals of the Los Angeles Police Department.
They began in March 1991, when George Holliday videotaped a gaggle of police officers kicking Rodney King and beating him with batons after a high-speed freeway chase. It ended, or so most people thought, in 2009 when a federal judge lifted a consent decree that threatened severe sanctions if the LAPD did not reform itself.
The subject of television and movie dramas since the 1960s and Jack Webb's "Dragnet,"--"Just the facts, ma'am"--the LAPD has long been a flash point for controversy. It is the nation's third-largest police force, but has far fewer officers per capita and square mile than the two largest forces, in New York and Chicago. Until about 15 years ago, the department's officers where overwhelmingly white.
A couple of decades of reform seemed to make things better. Officers of color were recruited, and the department worked on community relations. About a year ago, the force nailed one of its own: a female detective who killed her romantic rival in a cold case dating back 26 years.
At the time, officials spoke of an enlightened era in which the new LAPD could investigate the old LAPD. Even the loudest critics had mostly fallen silent in recent years.
Enter Christopher Jordan Dorner, a 33-year-old, 270-pound LAPD washout who is now the most hunted man in America. He is the suspect in three killings and has dredged up the LAPD scandals in a 6,000-word rant addressed to "America" and
"The department has not changed since the Rampart and Rodney King days," he wrote. "It has gotten worse. The consent decree should never have been lifted."
Dorner is angry about being fired by the LAPD. He is articulate and lucid enough to trigger flashbacks to a time not so long ago when patrol officers broke their world into two categories: "blue and everybody else."
It began in March 1991 when King, who died last year, was beaten by three LAPD patrol officers while a supervisor stood by. The officers were tried, and later acquitted of the most serious charges. The LAPD watched as parts of the city erupted in rioting that left 53 dead and damaged $1 billion worth of property.
An investigation revealed that racism, brutality and adversarial attitudes were so engrained that it didn't even occur to officers to hide them. The inquiry documented a culture in which cops openly talked with each other about beating suspects--"attitude adjustments," they called it--and labeled a group of African-Americans as "gorillas in the mist," a popular movie title during the Rodney King era.