D. E. Gray's new book titled “True to the Blue” is a work of fiction and is based in part on a true story along with actual events that the author experienced or witnessed while on the job. Many of the characters portrayed in this story are patterned after real people who have either worked or crossed paths with D. E. Gray during his 42 year career as a street cop.
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On the night of March 3, 1991, black motorist, Rodney King, and his two passengers were pulled over after a high-speed chase on the freeways and surface streets in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles. The incident, which was captured on home video, showed King being arrested and struck more than fifty times by four LAPD officers who claimed he was resisting arrest. The aftermath culminated in one of the worst race riots in U.S. history, which was centered in and around the city of Los Angeles. The incident resulted in the formation of the “Christopher Commission,” whose job it was to conduct a full examination into the structure and operation of the LAPD.
When Chief Daryl Gates retired two months after the riots, Willie Williams, an outsider from Philadelphia, was hired as the fiftieth chief, the first black person and the first non-internal appointee in forty years. After Willie Williams was unable to deliver on his promised reforms to the LAPD, he was given his walking papers at the end of his five-year term.
It was definitely understood by the rank and file at LAPD that things were going to change now that Deputy Chief Bernard Parks was appointed as the new police chief of the Los Angeles Police Department. Typical of his forthright style was his brisk approach to the lax discipline and hazy knowledge of rules he found in mid-1997 when he took over the department. As police chief, Bernard Parks implemented some of the most rigorous police reforms ever proposed in the history of the police department, including the institution of an officer accountability policy. Parks also made it easier for the community to file complaints against problem officers by streamlining the citizen complaint system.
Now, even a bogus charge of a cop who had stolen the Apollo Lunar-Lander from the moon would have to be investigated all the way up to the top of the department, with reports from supervisors and commanders at every step. Within a year, the complaint process jumped 400 percent. Every station house had to dedicate three or four supervisors to complaint duty, leaving far fewer to oversee the supervision of officers. Sergeants were crisscrossing southern California, tracking down witnesses to interview for clearly bogus complaints.
The department was even setting up sting operations on the officers and supervisors to see if they were properly taking citizens’ complaints or if they were discarding them as having no merit. Now even an officer with an unblemished record could end up with a sustained allegation of derelict of duty and receive some type of discipline if he did not follow rules and procedures. To not take a complaint could hurt your career when it was time to promote, and in many cases, that put the average street cop in the department’s crosshairs.
Supervisors all the way up the chain of command were running scared. There was no more supervisory discretion. The no-discretion complaint system penalized good police work, since criminals routinely file complaints as payback for an arrest. The result: officers avoided law-enforcement actions with a high likelihood of retaliatory complaints.
Even with Chief Bernard Parks’s best of intentions with supervisory and officer accountability, good hardworking police officers were going to be harshly disciplined and, in many cases, unjustly fired.
For Sergio Ortega, a six-year veteran of the LAPD assigned to the Operations Central Bureau CRASH unit, he would learn being true to the blue uniform was more than he realized, and he was going to learn the hard way.