In fact, although the survey of a dozen cities around the country found that blacks are less likely than whites to be satisfied with the police, the racial divide is smaller in Los Angeles than the average for all the cities.
The federal survey--the first of its kind in 20 years--found that 82% of blacks polled in the city of Los Angeles last year said they were satisfied with police serving their neighborhoods, compared with 89% of whites and 86% citywide. Nationwide, the overall satisfaction rate for all respondents was 85%.
The findings surprised experts and community activists in a city where minorities have clashed repeatedly with police over such controversies as the Rodney G. King beating, the 1992 riots, the O.J. Simpson trials, allegations of racial profiling and, in the most recent imbroglio, last month's fatal shooting by police of a homeless black woman.
"That's an impressive percentage," John Mack, president of the Los Angeles Urban League, said of blacks' satisfaction level, "frankly, higher than I would have expected."
The findings are more perplexing still because the survey also found that Los Angeles' blacks, for all their positive attitudes toward police, said they were victims of violence nearly twice as often as whites.
The rate of violent crimes reported in Los Angeles--65 reports per 1,000 residents--was slightly lower than the national average. For L.A. blacks, however, there were 114 reports of violence per 1,000 residents.
Decline of 'Cowboy Mentality' Observed
The recent controversy over the shooting death of Margaret LaVerne Mitchell, the homeless woman killed by police two weeks ago, has exacerbated tensions between minorities and the Los Angeles Police Department, said Royce W. Esters, president of a Compton-based group called the National Assn. for Equal Justice in America.
"Lately, it seems like it's been them against us," he said.
The Justice Department survey would not reflect any impact of that incident because the study was conducted in 1998.