On April 29, 1992, riots erupted in Los Angeles just minutes after four LAPD officers were acquitted by a California jury in the controversial and highly publicized Rodney King trial. The officers, who were Caucasian and Latino, had been charged with using excessive force in the apprehension of King, who was African American, after a high-speed automobile chase that was caught on tape. The riots lasted for six days and resulted in widespread looting, assault, arson, and murder throughout much of Los Angeles and its suburbs. All-in-all, 58 people died, 2,383 were injured, and close to a billion dollars in property damage was sustained.
Once the violence had subsided, the LAPD and the Chief of Police, Daryl Gates, came under intense scrutiny for using excessive force in the King incident, for failing to prepare for civil unrest prior to the acquittals, and for not reacting swiftly and sufficiently to end the violence. Private citizens, community activists, politicians, the media, and many law enforcement officials cast their doubts as to whether the LAPD was capable of adequately serving and protecting the citizens of Los Angeles.
By a motion adopted on May 11, 1992, the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners spearheaded an investigation aimed at examining law enforcement's performance in connection with the riots. Former federal judge and director of the FBI and CIA, William H. Webster, was selected by the Board to preside over the investigation. Hubert Williams, head of a respected law enforcement think tank and the former Police Director of Newark, New Jersey, was named second-in-command. Webster and Williams were assisted by more than 100 attorneys and a small staff on loan from other cities' police departments to conduct the study.
Five months later, the Webster Commission concluded its study and synthesized its findings in a report entitled The City in Crisis that was presented to the Board of Police Commissioners on October 21, 1992. The report concluded that no one entity was entirely to blame for the events following the Rodney King acquittals; rather, rioting became rampant due to a general lack of emergency preparedness and poor coordination between the LAPD and city leaders. The report concluded with three recommendations aimed at preventing similar occurrences in the future:
(1) The LAPD should place a greater emphasis on basic patrol duties by re-allocating police officers away from special units and toward patrol assignments.
(2) Both the LAPD and the City of Los Angeles should devote more resources to emergency response planning and training.
(3) The city should overhaul its emergency operations center and emergency communications system to better coordinate emergency response procedures.
In its investigation, the Webster Commission took into account information attained from a wide variety of sources, including LAPD officers, other law enforcement personnel, politicians, the media, and community leaders.