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Independent Commission on the Los Angeles Police Department records

Identifier: 0229

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Scope and Content

Chaired by prominent attorney and former Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher, the Independent Commission on the Los Angeles Police Department assessed the structure and operations of the LAPD in connection with the Rodney King incident of March, 1991. The collection consists of materials collected and analyzed by the Commission and its professional staff over the course of their 100 day study. Materials reflect the major themes of the Commission's investigation including use-of-force guidelines, bias and discrimination, personnel and hiring practices, internal discipline, complaints, and citizen oversight.

Included in the collection are the following: excerpts from books, journals, dissertations, and reports related to the role of the police in society; newspaper and article clippings; excerpts from and analyses of the Los Angeles City Charter; court transcripts, memoranda, and legal briefs; correspondence with witnesses, LAPD personnel, and members of the general public; interview transcripts and copies of witness testimony; statistics related to the use of force maintained in LAPD databases; summaries of and excerpts from selected LAPD personnel files; settlement agreements between the city of Los Angeles and aggrieved citizens; street maps delineating the LAPD's service areas; and draft copies of several chapters from the Commission report. Also featured are materials related to the Commission staff's work product, including work plans, meeting agendas, notes, and correspondence.


  • Creation: 1991 - 1995
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1991


Conditions Governing Access

COLLECTION STORED OFF-SITE. Advance notice required for access.

Conditions Governing Use

All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Manuscripts Librarian. Permission for publication is given on behalf of Special Collections as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained.

Historical note

On March 3, 1991, at the end of a high-speed vehicle pursuit, an amateur cameraman captured on video four uniformed LAPD officers beating motorist Rodney G. King. The incident, which occurred in the presence of a sergeant and a group of other officers, spurred public outcry and fostered an overwhelming sense of mistrust and disdain toward the LAPD. In response, the Mayor and the Chief of Police of Los Angeles each formed an independent citizens' commission to conduct a full and fair investigation into the LAPD's tactics, policies, practices, and procedures, especially those pertaining to the use of force when making arrests. To avoid overlap the two commissions subsequently merged and formed the Independent Commission on the Los Angeles Police Department, also referred to as the Christopher Commission.

Presiding over the ten member advisory body was Los Angeles attorney Warren Christopher, who had previously served in the Lyndon Johnson administration as Deputy Attorney General and in the Jimmy Carter administration as Deputy Secretary of State. Retired California Supreme Court Justice, John A. Arguelles, was selected to be second in command. Over the course of the investigation, Christopher, Arguelles, and the Commission members were assisted by an experienced staff of more than 60 attorneys from major Los Angeles law firms, all of whom worked strictly on a pro bono basis.

Together, the Commission and its staff reviewed one million pages of documentation related to all aspects of the law enforcement structure in Los Angeles that might cause or contribute to the problem of excessive force. Special attention was drawn to the LAPD's training and recruitment practices, assignment and promotion procedures, internal disciplinary system, citizen's complaint process, and use-of-force guidelines. The investigation also centered on the role of the city's Board of Police Commissioners and evaluated the dynamics between the Mayor-appointed commissioners and members of the LAPD's administration.

The Commission concluded its study after three months and synthesized its findings into the Report of the Independent Commission on the Los Angeles Police Department. The 228 page report identified several major structural problems within the LAPD that shed light onto the King incident and also offered conditions and recommendations for improvement. Many of the problems identified by the Commission were attributed to the LAPD's management and administration practices led by Chief of Police Daryl M. Gates.

The major issues and strategies identified in the Commission report can be grouped into the following thematic categories:

(1) Excessive Force. Dozens of officers abuse the Department's use-of-force guidelines by repeatedly exercising excessive force. These incidents are rarely included in the officers' personnel files.

(2) Racism. The problem of excessive force is aggravated by racism and bias within the LAPD. Officers brazenly send racist and sexist messages over the Department's Mobile Data Terminal (MDT) system without reprimand. A greater degree of sensitivity training should be incorporated into the academy curriculum to solve this problem.

(3) Community. The LAPD has an organizational culture that emphasizes crime control over crime prevention. This has fostered a siege mentality among officers and has isolated the police from the communities and the people that they serve. The Department should re-evaluate its philosophy and consider adopting a more proactive, community oriented approach to law enforcement.

(4) Discipline. The discipline system is skewed against citizens making complaints. Instead of conducting a full and fair evaluation, investigators seem more concerned with exonerating the accused officers of wrongdoing.

(5) Recruitment. The Department's current recruitment and screening program is a poor predictor of an applicant's tendencies toward violent behavior, and the background investigation pays too little attention to a candidate's history of violence. Officers should also be regularly screened to determine if physical or psychological problems develop over time.

(6) Chief. Chief of Police Daryl F. Gates should transition toward retirement, and his successors should be limited to two 5-year terms.

(7) Implementation. The support of politicians, the police, and the general public is essential to successfully enact reforms and implement change within the Department.

The Commission completed its study in 100 days and published its report in July, 1991, three months after the investigation was formally launched.


52.5 Linear Feet (54 boxes)

Language of Materials



The city of Los Angeles became the epicenter of a public relations scandal on March 3, 1991, when an amateur cameraman captured on video four uniformed LAPD officers beating motorist Rodney G. King. In addition to generating public outrage, the incident cast a dark shadow over the LAPD and called into question the integrity of the nation's third largest municipal police force. Subsequently, the ten member Independent Commission on the Los Angeles Police Department was formed to conduct a full and fair evaluation of all aspects of the LAPD's structure and operations related to the use of force when making arrests. Included in this collection are the documents that were collected and analyzed by the Commission over the course of its study.


The collection is arranged by the law firm that compiled or produced the given documents for the Commission.


The collection was given to the University of Southern California on July 31, 1991.

Related Archival Materials

Los Angeles Webster Commission records, 1991-1992. University of Southern California: Regional History Collection. 0244.

Separated Materials note

Flitner, David, The Politics of Presidential Commission (New York: Transnational Pub., 1986).

Ogawa, Brian, Color of Justice: Culturally Sensitive Treatment of Minority Crime Victims (Sacramento, Calif.: Office of the Governor, State of California, Office of Criminal Justice Planning, 1990).

Sparrow, Malcom K., Mark H. Moore, and David M. Kennedy, Beyond 911: A New Era for Policing (New York: Basic Books, 1990).


Finding Aid of the Independent Commission on the Los Angeles Police Department records
Katie Richardson, Andrew Goodrich, Vivian Yan, and Michael Hooks
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
The processing of this collection and the creation of this finding aid was funded by the generous support of the Council on Library and Information Resources.

Revision Statements

  • 2012 September: Finding aid updated by Michael Hooks.
  • 2021 September: Finding aid updated by Bo Doub: created new container records (listed under "Unprocessed material") after finding previously undocumented boxes during Grand Archives stacks shelf-reading.
  • 2024 April: Bo Doub updated the finding aid to include material added to the collection from accession no. 2024-016 -- housed in box nos. 51-54.

Repository Details

Part of the USC Libraries Special Collections Repository

Doheny Memorial Library 206
3550 Trousdale Parkway
Los Angeles California 90089-0189 United States