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Los Angeles Webster Commission records

Identifier: 0244

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Scope and Content

Chaired by former federal judge and FBI and CIA Director William H. Webster, the Los Angeles Webster Commission assessed law enforcement's performance in connection with the April, 1992 Los Angeles riots. The collection consists of materials collected and studied by the Commission over the course of its investigation. Materials pertain to both the Los Angeles incident specifically, and civil disturbance, riot control, and policing tactics in general.

Included in the collection are the following: interviews with LAPD officers, law enforcement personnel, government officials, community leaders, and activists; articles, broadcasts, and press releases covering the riots; various tactical and contingency plans created for disasters and emergencies; reports, studies, and manuals about riot control and prevention; literature about community-based policing strategies; emergency plans and procedures developed by other cities; and after-action reports issued once the riots had subsided. Also featured are items related to the internal operations of the LAPD both before and during the riots, including activity reports, meeting agendas and minutes, arrest data, annual reports, curricula and educational materials, and personnel rosters.


  • Creation: 1931 - 1992
  • Creation: Majority of material found within


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 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.


50 Linear Feet (40 boxes)

Language of Materials



On April 29, 1992, the city of Los Angeles erupted into riots after four LAPD officers accused of beating motorist Rodney King were acquitted of all criminal charges. The effects were catastrophic; in total, the chaos persisted for six days and resulted in 58 deaths, 2,383 injuries, and nearly a billion dollars in property damage. The extent of the human and material losses incurred from the riots, coupled with intense public scrutiny of the LAPD, led the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners to establish the Webster Commission to assess law enforcement's performance in connection with the riots. Included in this collection are interviews, article clippings, broadcasts, reports, emergency operations plans, and internal LAPD documents that were collected and analyzed by the Commission over the course of its study.


For the most part, the collection's contents have been kept within their original groupings. Original folder titles and series titles were used to describe the materials when the titles could be deciphered. Otherwise, folder and series titles were assigned based on the contents.


The collection was given to the University of Southern California on October 30, 1992 by the Special Advisor to the Board of Police Commissioners of the City of Los Angeles.

Finding Aid of the Los Angeles Webster Commission records
Katie Richardson and Andrew Goodrich
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
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.

Repository Details

Part of the USC Libraries Special Collections Repository

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