- Career Development
- U-M HistoryLabs
- Michigan in the World
- Reverb Effect Podcast
- Season 1, Episode 1: Street Harassment, Then and Now
- Season 1, Episode 2: Recording the Family: In Search of the Sonic Archive
- Season 1, Episode 3: Evidence of Absence: Lilli Segal, the KGB, and the AIDS Crisis
- Season 1, Episode 4: Archive Magic: Assembling History, One Clue at a Time
- Season 1, Episode 5: Capacity Matters: Immigrant Prisons in the United States
- Season 1, Episode 6: Policing Gold: Law Enforcement in the Shadow of the LA Olympics
- Season 1, Episode 7: Archie Bunker for President!
- Season 2, Episode 1: Revival and Reckoning: A Colonial Museum in Postcolonial Italy
- Season 2, Episode 2: The Unnatural Vice: King Henri III, Sodomy, and Modern Masculinity
- Season 2, Episode 3: Envisioning Eternity: Women and Purgatory in the Seventeenth-Century Spanish World
- Season 2, Episode 4: Mother Caravan: Disappearance and Resistance along the Migrant Trail
- Season 2, Episode 5: A Prison by Any Other Name: Imagining Childhood Criminality in 1920s Chicago
- Season 2, Episode 6: Surviving Patriarchal Violence at Home: Incest Victims in the Progressive Era
- Season 3, Episode 1: Music Time in Africa
- Season 3, Episode 2: Navigating Pregnancy: A Century of Prenatal Care
- Alumni Connections
- Innovative Pedagogy Blog
Daniela Sheinin: How do past voices resonate in the present moment? And how do we make sense of those voices? What were they trying to say? And whose job is it to find out? This is Reverb Effect.
The 2020 Tokyo Olympics will be postponed. The announcement came just days prior to this recording from the international Olympics committee and Tokyo organizers. Due to COVID-19, the games will be delayed until summer 2021. Things were uncertain for a while. Both were wary of putting out an official statement. Athletes continued to train as best they could. News sources speculated that one of the major reasons for the delayed official announcement was the colossal financial ramifications, should the games be postponed. To host the Olympic games means billions of dollars spent on infrastructure. New stadiums, housing, transportation services, and facilities to accommodate the hundreds of thousands of spectators and press that will descend upon the city. Now the city faces an immense loss of revenue. Millions in broadcasting rights, the added costs of venue leasing and maintenance, unemployment. Who will be on the hook for sold advertising? Not to mention the devastation to athletes who have spent their lives training for these two weeks.
Host cities use the games to generate revenue for the city. To acquire funds for services ranging from land development, construction, neighborhood beautification, transportation advancements, and so on. The preparation of the Tokyo Olympics was promoted in part as the rebuilding and reemergence of a country after the devastating 2011 earthquake and damage to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. A site that as of January, continued to store remaining radioactive water from the ruin. In a bitter irony, the measurement used to describe the tons of contaminated water, was Olympic size swimming pools. Still, the region is rebuilding and was supposed to see the Olympic torch pass through on its way to the opening ceremonies.
This episode will take us back to 1984 when Los Angeles hosted the Olympics. Widely celebrated as one of the most successful Olympic games, financially speaking, this was the summer that Carl Lewis tied Jesse Owens record with four gold medals. Victor Davis and Alex Baumann brought Canadian swimming to the international stage. A women's marathon had been added to the events lineup and China's and athletes for the first time since 1952. For the first time, the games had corporate sponsors.
Archival Audio (Olympic Advertisement): You can compete in the Olympics too. Play McDonald's “When the US Wins, You Win” Olympic game and win up to $10,000 instantly or keep your cards and when the US wins your event, you'll win a big Mac, regular fries or a Coca-Cola. So go to McDonald's and get your game cards today. Because when the US wins, you win.
Daniela Sheinin: The city of Los Angeles, was able to procure the usual funding for city projects. PhD student, David Helps, takes us through the story of one of those projects - law enforcement. He traces the way in which Los Angeles policing adapted to the circumstances of a global event and how funding tied to the games reached all facets of law enforcement, from counterterrorism to surveillance. David is a historian of 20th century United States in a global context. His research teaching and public scholarship focused on themes of policing, migration, cities and political economy.
The 1984 Olympics was not the first time LA expanded its police force and surveillance technologies in the name of keeping the city safe, nor were the closing ceremonies the end of it.
The Olympics will be returning to LA in 2028. A Los Angeles Times article from 2019 predicted the cost for the 2028 Olympics to be 6.9 billion dollars. There are arising concerns from local organizations that this means badly needed resources from underprivileged neighborhoods will be directed elsewhere. There has been a promise to dedicate $160 million to youth sport, for example, but what else can they expect to see in their neighborhoods? Some Los Angeles residents are not strangers to an increased police presence, but how much more will it grow?
David Helps: I had never seen a police helicopter before, not in person anyway. Some Los Angelenos, however, would have been all too familiar with the helicopters hovering over their neighborhoods. The Los Angeles Police Department bought its first helicopter in 1956 and by the end of the 1960s had a whole fleet. This, it turns out, is where the LAPD keeps them. On the roof of what is essentially a concrete parking garage that's also home to a few small municipal offices. By now, the whirring sound of police helicopters is so frequent that it's become one of Los Angelenos’ biggest annoyances. That day I was doing research in the Los Angeles City Clerk Records office, a nondescript little office accessible from the roof of the C. Erwin Piper Technical Center. The City Clerk Records Office was relatively easy to get to, especially considering that Los Angeles is a sprawling metropolis with a reputation for gridlock traffic and neglected public transit.
The Piper Center is just a few minutes walk from union station. A magnificent building with a mural celebrating the city's multiracial history and artistic output. From the top of Piper center, you can get a spectacular view of downtown Los Angeles, if like on that day the city's infamous smog isn't too thick. Framed by the silver blades of the choppers, the blue sky faded into a gray snarl of skyscrapers. Inside the records office, boxes were piled in seemingly random places. Stacked on tables and against the yellowing upholstered walls of cubicles. A framed and faded tapestry commemorating the 1984 Summer Olympics hung on the wall.
Archival Audio: Now it's climbing around the range. Can you see it there? The sun makes it difficult, but there, you can see it.
David Helps: For some context, it should be mentioned that the 1984 summer Olympics remains probably the most vaunted event in the history of Los Angeles for many, many Los Angelenos. There's even this column that Bill Dwyer writes for the Los Angeles Times more than 20 years after the Olympic Games in which he basically says that hosting the Olympics was the best thing that ever happened to Los Angeles and that nothing could ever be that good again. And one of the things that he brings up to support this idea is a story that I've never been able to verify in which he says that during the 1992 urban rebellion, what's often called the Rodney King riots, that a group of looters descended upon the amateur athletic foundation, which is actually a building that was established with money from the 1984 Olympics profits. And the way that he tells it, the people outside this building were not police, they weren't armed guards, but they were able to get this, you know, mob to back down to turn and go the other way just by telling them, don't you know what this building is? This is a museum to Los Angeles’ Olympic history.
And so the idea that that story is sort of meant to communicate whether or not it actually happened, and I have some serious doubts whether it happened. What that's meant to communicate is that even for the most disaffected people who work in the midst looting and burning entire parts of Los Angeles, that the Olympics was the one thing that remained sacred.
Back at the city clerk office, I had asked to see four or five creased cardboard boxes that supposedly contained some LAPD files. Inside I found stacks and stacks of paper. No folders, no labels, no clear organization whatsoever. A researcher's nightmare. I sifted through stained scraps of paper until I found something promising, a thick typewritten stack fastened with a binder clip and stamped CONFIDENTIAL.
WARNING. This document contains highly secret and sensitive information and may not be circulated, copied, reproduced, summarized, or otherwise used without express permission from the commander commission investigation division. Failure to adhere to this warning may result in disciplinary, civil, or criminal action.
Historians frequently refer to archival research using police detective metaphors. We hunt for clues, follow leads, assemble evidence, maybe even solve mysteries, but none of my training as a historian had taught me what to do when facing a document telling me that I might be committing a crime just by reading it. Had this report been stored away by mistake? Did anyone know it was here? Was I allowed to know the information it contained? Was digging through unlabeled boxes in a concrete room surrounded by police helicopters making me too conspiratorial? Maybe whatever information this report contained had been cleared for public eyes sometime between when the warning was written and when I stumbled upon it. Maybe this wasn't a subversive discovery. Maybe it's self-aggrandizement for historians to think of themselves as detectives.
I turned the cover page. What followed was a 100-page investigation detailing systemic police misconduct in the LAPD. This by itself was not a revelation. During the 1970s and 1980s the department's public disorder intelligence division carried out illegal surveillance of hundreds of people, including at least one judge and city council member. They even surveilled the civilian police commission. The oversight body the police are supposed to answer to. This scandal had made its way into newspapers in other archives I'd seen, only because a group called the Coalition Against Police Abuse had joined forces with the American Civil Liberties Union to sue the department.
Archival Audio: Shot in the back over 19 times. We have a situation <inaudible> where a black man was shot in the bed asleep by squad members 28 times in the back and yet still there’s no attempt to really punish…
David Helps: This unusual archival discovery of a confidential report detailing illegal police surveillance made crystal clear what the Coalition Against Police Abuse lawsuit had claimed at the time, in 1978. The Public Disorder Intelligence Division, or PDID, was less a sophisticated antiterrorism force than a group of officers empowered to harass and intimidate political opponents with little concern for constitutional freedoms and a sloppy intelligence protocol.
Archival Audio (Zev Yaroslavsky): The concern that has been raised in recent weeks and in the past years has not been over the legitimate intelligence gathering operations of the LAPD, of which we know very little, if any.
David Helps: That's city council member Zev Yaroslavsky, who quickly became a key critic of the LAPD’s intelligence operations, questioning LAPD chief Daryl Gates in the council chambers in 1980, 2 years into the scandal. What Yaroslavsky did not yet know was that he himself was among the PDIDs targets. The unit had been secretly maintaining a file on him almost since the day he took office. Despite his criticisms, Yaroslavsky believed the PDID could be sensibly reformed. He went out of his way to make a distinction between what he saw is legitimate surveillance activity and police abuses, between what the intelligence unit was supposed to do and what it was actually doing.
Archival Audio (Yaroslavsky): The infiltrators in the organizations who have reported on things other than what appeared to be the original purpose of their investigation.
David Helps: But the record shows there was almost no legitimate surveillance to speak up. According to an annual audit, I found, the intelligence unit had not produced information leading to a single arrest for the year in question. In fact, officers spent their energy studying, infiltrating and reporting on peaceful organizations, which were critical of the police. These surveillance targets were liberal, left wing or civil libertarian groups in Southern California, including native American and Chicano activists, environmentalist an African American student group, the local black Panther party, Unitarian church members, the national lawyers Guild and the ACLU, hardly the terrorist threats these officers were tasked with confronting. City council member, Zev Yaroslavsky’s own file underscores how little this surveillance had to do with terrorism. Not only did he not know that the police kept a file on him, but that file also contained a death threat made against him in a 1976 letter by an angry voter. It was not until 1983 the Yaroslavsky learned this and only because he requested a copy of his surveillance file through the city's new Freedom of Information ordinance that he helped write. If the police deemed the threat credible enough to save the letter, why had they not informed him that his life might be in danger?
In February, 1984 the city of Los Angeles settled the lawsuit the Coalition Against Police Abuse and the ACLU had brought in 1978. By that point, more than 130 organizations had joined as plaintiffs, they and their lawyers won a total of $1.8 million in damages. The LAPD abolished the Public Disorder Intelligence Division and was forced to accept tighter oversight for its replacement, the Antiterrorism Division. The scandal also led to the creation of a municipal Freedom of Information ordinance to guarantee public accountability for local police activity. The Los Angeles ordinance, Yaroslavsky helped craft, was part of a trend of Freedom of Information laws whereby federal, state and local authorities sought to guarantee civilians’ right to access government documents. These laws captured a widespread distrust of secret government activity following the Watergate scandal, as well as revelations about the U S war in Vietnam and covert operations by the central intelligence agency.
Archival Audio (Tom Bradley): We cannot in this society condone any kind of illegal, improper activity by a law enforcement agency, whether it's an intelligence gathering or not.
David: That's Los Angeles mayor, Tom Bradley, connecting police surveillance in his city to CIA and FBI intelligence programs. More on that later. But what gave the Public Disorder Intelligence Division such a wide latitude to spy on civil rights activists, student radicals, police reformers, judges and politicians in the first place? Part of the answer lies in one special event.
Archival Audio (Olympic opening ceremonies): <inaudible> Johnson
David Helps: Remember that tapestry on the wall of the city clerk room?
Archival Audio (Olympic opening ceremonies): <inaudible> He will light the Olympic flame. A young man who spent a year of his youth living in a railroad boxcar…
David Helps: In 1978 Los Angeles was named the host of the 1984 summer Olympic Games. Five years earlier at the Munich Olympics, members of the Palestinian terror group, Black September, killed 11 Israeli athletes they had taken hostage in the Olympic village. Add to this, the violence between Irish Republicans and British unionists in Northern Ireland, known as “the troubles” and the bombings and assassinations committed by Basque separatist in Spain, and it becomes easy to see why journalists and politicians talked about terrorism constantly, leading up to the 1984 Olympics. Together, city officials and Olympic planners decided that hosting a safe and secure games for a global audience would require a major display of police power. More than 50 local, state and federal police agencies, plus a private security force organized just for the Games sought to prevent everything from international terrorism and drug smuggling, to pick-pocketing, sex work, vagrancy, and drunk driving. For months leading up to the event, the possibility of Los Angeles’ international reputation being ruined by crime and terrorism or public disorder filled local newspapers. The need to prevent another Olympic tragedy was used to justify massive expenditures on antiterrorism technologies. Airport scanners, a command center to coordinate policing between state, federal and local forces, as well as the police departments in Mexico, and a state-of-the-art database to track tourists and other people entering the country. Once purchased, however, these technologies enter the LAPD’s everyday arsenal of crime control, long after the two weeks of Olympic festivities were over.
Archival Audio: It's a high crime area in Los Angeles and they've been checking the crime statistics since this massive police presence came here at this area has seen a 70% decline in crimes like burglary and theft and robbery. In fact, 90% in armed robbery and you’ve been asking for more police for a long time. I guess this proved your point.
David Helps: Monitoring and responding to terrorist threats surrounding the Olympics is only part of the explanation for the LAPD’s far reaching surveillance. The Public Disorder Intelligence Division went back farther than Los Angeles’ successful Olympic host bid. It's part of a much longer history of police using anxieties about terrorism to harass, intimidate, discredit, and even kill political activists.
Kat Brausch: The most well-known example of federal domestic political repression was the mid century COINTELPRO, the FBI's counterintelligence program.
David Helps: That's my colleague and office mate, Kat Brausch, a fellow PhD student in history. She studies radical lawyers, political trials, and US prisons during this period.
Kat Brausch: COINTELPRO’s mandate was to, quote, expose, disrupt misdirect, discredit or otherwise neutralize groups it viewed as subversive threats to the United States domestic security. In 1967 its mandate was expanded to focus on what it called a, quote, black nationalist hate groups, black leftist organizations like the Black Panther party, black power organizations like the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee or SNCC, but even mainstream civil rights organizations like the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the organization most closely associated with Martin Luther King Jr.
David Helps: COINTELPRO is remembered for its agents’ participation in a Chicago raid in which Black Panther, Fred Hampton was shot to death while he slept next to his pregnant girlfriend, 50 years ago, last December.
Archival Audio: So we say, we always said the Black Panther Party, that they can do anything they want to, to us, but when I leave, you remember I said with the last words on my lips, that I am a revolutionary.
David Helps: But the FBI was not the first or only police force to use extra legal methods against activists. Three decades before COINTELPRO began, local police carried out the same work against labor unions, anarchists, communists, feminists and dissidents of all kinds. Two of the most notorious of these red squads were those of the Detroit Police Department and the Michigan State Police, which my colleague Nicole Navarro has studied.
Nicole Navarro: In Michigan, state and city of Detroit police departments were intimately involved in surveillance. Known as the Red Squad, this unit had roots in the 1940s second Red Scare practices of surveilling the old left, including labor activists and communists. State and Detroit police in coordination with federal agencies like the FBI surveilled around 1.5 million Metro Detroit residents, organizations and visitors between its inception in the 1930s and its disbandment in 1974. Eventually in 1984 a court directive finally opened the Red Squad archives, but only to those who had been the target of surveillance and had their civil rights violated.
David Helps: Nicole Navarro is a PhD candidate in history and a member of the Documenting Criminalization and Confinement Project at the University of Michigan, as part of which, she has led undergraduate students in producing interactive online exhibits on policing in Detroit.
The PDID, Public Disorder Intelligence Division, was a child of the LAPD Red Squad. Given this context, it's hardly surprising that the LAPD’s Public Disorder Intelligence Division targeted activists that did not pose any credible terrorist threat, or that it did so in ways that disregarded civil liberties. But that's not how LA mayor, Tom Bradley, saw it at the time. Asked by reporters in 1980 to discuss the ongoing intelligence scandal, Bradley hesitated to criticize LAPD leadership.
Archival Audio (Tom Bradley): The officers thought that they were acting properly. Now that they've discovered that this was uh, apparently contrary to what was intended by the commission, the commission is now trying to correct it.
David Helps: What became known as LA’s police spying scandal in the mid 1980s was not a bug. Some overzealous officers straying from their mission. It was the norm. Whether or not Bradley knew it at the time, all Public Disorder Intelligence Division, or PDID, investigations were first approved by the chief of police, Daryl Gates. This was no rogue unit. Targeting groups that fought for racial equality, economic justice and constitutional freedoms was something police intelligence units had always done, not just in Los Angeles. While the Olympics may have given the Los Angeles police a new reason to crack down on opponents, they may not have needed one. This was certainly how Michael Zinzun, of the Coalition Against Police Abuse saw it.
Archival Audio (Zinzun): While police abuse has found its way into every major city in the US, the LAPD is responsible for promoting and encouraging the us against them attitude that has brought thousands of people from surrounding communities and residents of LA into the streets to protest.
David Helps: Michael Zinzun’s angry testimony came a few years later at a public hearing convened after four police officers were caught beating motorist, Rodney King, on video. But that was not the first investigation that Zinzun and the Coalition Against Police Abuse became involved in. The Public Disorder Intelligence Division was put under multiple investigations between 1983 and 1985 by the department, by the civilian police commission, which oversees the LAPD, and by an independent law firm the city brought in. It appears that only sanitized summaries and partial fragments of these investigations were made public and only indirectly filtered through the news media. Anyone can learn the basics. The Los Angeles police spying scandal is easy enough to find with library access to a historical newspapers database, but the severe warning I encountered in the city clerk records office was there for a reason. That's the only public version of the report that I've ever encountered. But for a moment things might've turned out differently. Documents like the one I found could have become public, printed in newspapers or handed out on any street corner in Los Angeles. The Coalition Against Police Abuse or CAPA, the very first plaintiff from that lawsuit against the police, appealed to California superior court for the right to publicize evidence of LAPD law breaking that the department had turned over in the discovery process in that case. To get a better sense of what that meant, I talked to my colleague Kat Brausch.
Kat Brausch: Discovery is the period of time pretrial where both sides of a lawsuit or a criminal prosecution, though the rules here are a little bit different, gather evidence for the purposes of having it at trial. In some ways, this is the central part of the case. Some practitioners say that this is really where the case is won or lost. During discovery, the requesting party is entitled to any documents or records that are relevant, not privileged and described with what the rules call reasonable particularity. Privileged information, stuff like lawyer-client communications, doctor-patient, communications between spouses. That's non discoverable. Confidential information is discoverable. This means that the party asking is entitled to those documents as long as there is a protective order from the court preventing the receiving party from releasing the information or all parties sign in agreement to that effect.
David Helps: In the case I've been talking about, a judge had issued a protective order. This is what CAPA was trying to get the California superior court to overturn. But what would have happened if they'd just gone ahead and publicized that evidence as soon as the LAPD handed it over?
Kat Brausch: If these confidential orders or agreements are broken, the court can and will impose sanctions anywhere from things affecting the trial itself, so evidence that is not allowed to be read into the record or potentially ruinous fines and fees, which for these long civil lawsuits can get pretty hefty
David Helps: In their petition to release the police documents CAPA pointed to the Freedom of Information ordinance that Los Angeles had passed. They charged the citizens had a fundamental right to share information that was in the public's interest. This was a really creative use of legal principles. Even if CAPA’s argument was not exactly supported by legal precedent. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the superior court ruled against the group, meaning that they would not be allowed to keep or publicize police documents that had been turned over to them.
Archival Audio (Olympics Announcer): There’s absolutely no way they’re going to catch him. This is exoneration. This is beautiful for Victor. He is just erasing the field, destroying the field.
David Helps: The Coalition Against Police Abuse failed in their legal battle to bring the very details of police surveillance out in the open. But in the course of this legal challenge, CAPA activists raised a critical question about what rights the public should have when it comes to law enforcement records. When I tell people about my research on policing, they often wonder what kinds of sources are even available to me. But what the Coalition Against Police Abuse, or CAPA, recognized was that police departments produced an unquantifiable amount of records. In fact, the Public Disorder Intelligence Division destroyed nearly 2 million intelligence documents just between 1975 and 1976. while those sources are lost to history, the amount of information police compile has only grown since the LAPD spying scandal broke. Endless paperwork filed by patrol officers, photographs captured by helicopters and at crime scenes, department memos and policies, taped 911 conversations, video recorded by cameras fitted to officers’ bodies or cruisers or unmanned drones and on and on. In some states, including Michigan, civilians can use Freedom of Information Act requests to access not just paper records but body camera footage. It is because of scandals like the ones the LAPD and FBI faced that legislators and courts have recognized civilians’ right to investigate the police.
Archival Audio: I think that there is a great patriotic feeling that is sweeping this country and that bodes well for our, for our future…
David Helps: These public disclosure rules, often just called FOIA, after the nationwide Freedom of Information Act are helpful tools for historians, journalists, and ordinary people. We have activists and whistleblowers like the Coalition Against Police Abuse to thank for them. But the right to access information that these policies provide is a far cry from what the radicals in CAPA hoped for. These types of disclosure requests remain inaccessible for most people who lack the time, money or expertise that they require. It's difficult to force police departments to comply. Several months ago I made a FOIA request for body cam footage recorded by an Ann Arbor police officer, after witnessing what I considered to be excessive force being used against an African American homeless man on the block outside the university of Michigan campus. After my initial request was denied outright, I resubmitted my request and after a couple of months of back and forth with the police department, I received a DVD with 30 minutes of footage. More than five minutes of audio had been inexplicably redacted. The process costs me around $120 and many hours of my time. Of course, I might consider myself lucky. The Los Angeles police department is known to go months or even years without responding.
Archival Audio: the last 25 steps you see rising before you.
David Helps: I experienced this firsthand when observing the incident I just mentioned outside the university of Michigan. Apparently not comfortable with being watched by a civilian, one of the officers handling the man bent down and pointed his body camera at me to make sure I knew he had clear evidence of my being there. Any device that watches the police can also become a means to watch back.
Archival Audio (Advertisement): When the moment means more, tape it and keep it on Kodak video tape. Capture the sights and sounds of every moment.
David Helps: Most fundamentally, public disclosure policies can only respond to illegal or unethical police behavior after it has taken place. Despite warnings from Los Angeles Police Department leadership that opening up files who civilian eyes would make it impossible for officers to do their jobs, departments’ surveillance capabilities have continually expanded since the 1960s. Police use increasingly sophisticated means of surveillance including aircraft developed for the U S Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This new frontier of aerial policing is called persistent surveillance in which an agency uses a hovering aircraft fitted with an extremely wide area camera to take continuous photos for hours at a time. The technique has been tested out in multiple cities including Compton, which is in Los Angeles County. Like the police helicopters I had to pass to enter the city clerk records office. Police surveillance is both hyper-visible and poorly understood. What the police are allowed to know and share about us is a matter of public policy and yet profoundly hidden from view. Last fall, the scales tip just a little bit closer toward genuine accountability.
Mark Vestal: This was nearly 200 boxes of files that no civilian or police officer could be looked at for like what 30 or 40 years.
David Helps: The Los Angeles Police Department settled the lawsuit based on its systematic failure to comply with Freedom of Information rules.
Mark Vestal: So my name is Mark Vestal. I'm a PhD candidate at UCLA in the Department of History and the team leader for the archives division of Million Dollar Hoods.
David Helps: The lawsuit is historic, brought by the ACLU of Southern California
Mark Vestal: Kelly Lytle Hernández, a UCLA historian, Ali Winston, who's a journalist and Shawn Nee who's an activist and photographer against the city and the LAPD in 2017, I believe it was April. Arguing that the LAPD was in violation of their California Public Record Act, particularly, they just weren’t responding to the Public Records Act requests either within a timely manner or at all.
David Helps: The lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles and the LAPD deepened the work that Mark Kelly Lytle Hernández and others had been doing for a couple of years already as part of a project called Million Dollar Hoods.
Mark Vestal: I had been a teaching assistant for Kelly Lytle Hernández, I've taken her classes. She brings me in and says, Hey, we're creating a new division for Million Dollar Hoods, which was to that point, mapping the fiscal and human cost of mass incarceration in Los Angeles and how it's expanded to do so for California.
David Helps: And here that phrase, Million Dollar Hoods, refers to the fact that in particular neighborhoods in Los Angeles County, majority black and Latino and low-income communities, as much as $1 million is spent per year on the cost of policing and incarcerating people.
Mark Vestal: When the lawsuit gets settled, the city archives has five pallets of these boxes. Nobody has any idea what's inside of them. How is this going to go down? Like what does this even mean to settle this lawsuit? We're going down to the city archives to take a look at these boxes so we can start to document what's there just in case if the LAPD decides to destroy all of these documents, we want it to begin the process of documenting it. And it was a mess. I mean, nobody knew what to do. Civilian employees of the LAPD were there, but there really wasn't a defined process in place. So if like we wanted to document a folder, or document a particular file, a memo or something like that, we could write the date, but we couldn't write a name because we don't know if that's public information. So there were all of these fights about how we could document this collection. So it was a mess.
David Helps: As part of the settlement, the city of Los Angeles now maintains a public portal of FOIA requests that had been submitted. The settlement also requires the police department to respond to all requests, be audited annually to ensure it is following public records laws and release data on police stops, jail bookings, and officer involved shootings so researchers can identify patterns.
Archival Audio: Everyone, no matter how different, has the right to live and express themselves in LA’s warm California sunshine.
David Helps: Finally, the settlement forces the LAPD to preserve critical records sources like the intelligence investigation I happened upon that day at the city clerk office. Whether that particular report was meant to be saved, documents like it must now become part of the historical record.
Daniela Sheinin: Thank you so much for joining us and a special thank you to our segment producer for the episode. David Helps. Another special thank you to contributors, Kat Brausch, Nicole Navarro, and Mark Vestal. Our editorial board is professor Melanie Tanielian and Matt Villeneuve and our production team is Executive Producer, Gregory Parker. And I'm your Season Producer, Daniela Sheinin.
I hope you'll join us for our next episode for more stories on how the past reverberates in the present. This is Reverb Effect.