On March 3, 1991, an American construction worker named Rodney King was severely beaten by Los Angeles police officers after leading them through the San Fernando Valley on a high-speed car chase. A bystander, George Holliday, witnessed the beating and videotaped much of the incident from a distance.
Footage from Holliday's videotape showed a group of uniformed officers surrounding King while several of them struck him repeatedly with their batons. A large group of officers watched the incident without taking any noticeable action to stop it. When a portion of the videotaped footage was televised in Los Angeles, then by news agencies around the world, the ensuing public outrage increased tension between the local black community and the LAPD.
The public demand for evaluation and reform of police procedures involving the use of force resulted in the formation of two citizens' commissions--one created by Mayor Tom Bradley and one created by Chief of Police Daryl Gates. To avoid overlap, the two commissions subsequently merged to form the Independent Commission on the Los Angeles Police Department, informally known as the Christopher Commission. The 10-member Commission, chaired by Warren Christopher, sought to examine all aspects of the law enforcement structure in Los Angeles that might cause or contribute to the problem of excessive force, including:
- the apparent failure to control or discipline officers with repeated complaints of excessive force
- concerns about the LAPD's "culture" and officers' attitudes toward racial and other minorities
- the difficulties the public encounters in attempting to make complaints against LAPD officers
- the role of the LAPD leadership and civilian oversight authorities in addressing or contributing to these problems.
At the conclusion of its investigation, the Commission synthesized its findings into a 228-page "Report of the Independent Commission on the Los Angeles Police Department." Many of the problems identified by the Commission were attributed to the LAPD's management and administration practices led by Chief of Police Daryl Gates. The Commission published its report in July 1991, three months after the investigation was formally launched.