Capt. Jorge Rodriguez stands to address a community meeting in his crisp blue LAPD uniform. Double bars on his shirt collars indicate he is the top-ranking officer here at the Newton Police Station on Central Avenue south of downtown.
"Just because I wear the uniform that they all wear, it doesn't mean that I'm in collusion with them or cahoots,” he tells the group. “I'm their boss. I want to hold them accountable.”
Rodriguez is talking about his own officers, who work the poor, high-crime neighborhoods east of the 110 freeway in South Los Angeles. He is seeking to rebuild community trust in the Newton Division, where the fatal police shooting of Ezell Ford in August sparked angry protests. Ford, 25, was an unarmed, mentally ill African-American man who allegedly tried to grab an officer’s gun.
The killing of Ford came just nine days after the death of Omar Abrego, who died after a struggle with police following a car pursuit. Abrego, 37, was also unarmed.
The community's frustration with the LAPD goes beyond the usual cadre of police critics. Jorge Nuno is a lifelong resident of the area who owns a marketing firm that helps produce community events for the police.
"You feel disappointed,” he says. “How did this happen in Newton? I thought we had something going here (in terms of building good relationships). What's happening?"