Joseph Rodriguez LAPD 1994

In the mid-nineties, the LAPD was in search of a public image make-over after the Rodney King uprisings.
The City Charter was reformed by increasing civilian oversight of the LAPD, the militant police chief of the moment, Daryl Gates, was forced to resign and Willie Williams became the first African-American chief of the department.
I was no stranger to this type of assignment. At that time I had already published two books, Spanish Harlem and East Side Stories, which depicted life in impoverished neighborhoods. Covering LAPD gave me a chance to show how police operated in marginalized communities, and how those communities were affected by individual cops and the department as a whole.
As part of these efforts, the LAPD gave photographer Joseph Rodriguez unprecedented access to document the officers in the field for The New York Times, hoping to give the public an image of a “kinder, gentler cop”, as the headline put it.
For weeks, he immersed himself in the daily workings of the 77th Street, Pacific and Rampart Divisions.Four years after Rodriguez rode along with Rampart officers, the station became notorious when the biggest scandal in LAPD history erupted in an astonishing spectacle of officer corruption that included the murder of a fellow cop, a bank robbery, unprovoked shootings of alleged gang members, drugs stolen from the evidence room, and other crimes.
In 2020, the year of Black Lives Matter, a generation after these photos were taken, new uprisings demand reform yet again and the same questions about policing – what are they for, who do they serve, and who do they protect – shape the public discussion.

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