A change of tune for LAPD as community policing makes gains

LOS ANGELES - In the public housing projects of the Watts neighborhood in Southeast, Los Angeles, police seem as determined to make friends as they do to make arrests.

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Officer Tiffany Norwood serves in what is called the Community Safety Partnership.

"These kids look up to us as a mentor, a father figure, a mother figure, a close auntie," said Officer Tiffany Norwood, who serves in what is called the Community Safety Partnership.

It's a change from how police were seen here less than a decade ago.

"The relationship back then, it was hostile. There was mutual disrespect. There was mutual fear," said Capt. Phillip Tingirides, who took command of the community police station here in 2007.

"We were so busy going from one shooting scene to the next, sweeping up the casings, and just not even looking at this community as being families, as being people who are suffering, as being people who have no other options because there are no jobs."

Tingirides has led his officers in changing attitudes and changing language.

"There's a difference between telling someone, 'Hey, can I talk to you?' and 'Hey, get over here!'" said Tingirides.

Two decades ago, the LAPD was best known for incidents like the 1991 beating of Rodney King, that led to riots against police brutality.

For civil rights attorney Connie Rice, it would have been impossible to believe that the day would come when the LAPD would be trusted. In the 1990's Rice became known for suing the police.

"No one else would tell LAPD you can't shoot people in the back when they're fleeing from you," said Rice. "You can't beat people to a pulp just because they mouth off to you."

In 1999, the Rampart Scandal revealed widespread misconduct and corruption in the LAPD. Under supervision of a federal judge the department was forced to change. Rice headed the panel that recommended reforms.

"We jumped on LAPD with everything we had because we knew this was the last chance that we had to get this police department to understand they serve the poor, black population," said Rice.

The relationship is far from perfect. Protests followed the fatal police shooting last month of Ezell Ford, an unarmed mentally ill man. Police Chief Charlie Beck met critics and promised a transparent investigation, as the LAPD tries to hold onto the gains made through its community policing.

  • John Blackstone

    From his base in San Francisco, CBS News correspondent John Blackstone covers breaking stories throughout the West. That often means he is on the scene of wildfires, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and rumbling volcanoes. He also reports on the high-tech industry in Silicon Valley and on social and economic trends that frequently begin in the West.