LOS ANGELES A spate of incidents in which Los Angeles police officers are under investigation for use of excessive force is threatening to erode the Police Department's hard-won efforts over several years to bolster community relations.
Video in recent weeks has captured officers punching a handcuffed suspect and slamming a restrained woman to the ground. In the third case, a woman stopped breathing in the back of a police car and later died.
The incidents come after years of reforms by the LAPD to improve its officers' conduct.
The efforts, undertaken under a federal court order, have yielded results: The city's crime rate is the lowest in four decades, and police are getting praise from communities, including minorities and gays, that had historically complained about mistreatment.
The recent incidents remain in the early investigative stages and none of the officers involved have been charged.
But they underscore that for some police officers on the street, the line on acceptable use of force remains blurry.
"There's been a real effort to change the culture," said Joe Domanick, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice who is writing a book on the transformation of the LAPD after the Rodney King beating. "It takes a long time for a culture to change, for things to trickle down."
Andrea Ordin, president of the Los Angeles Police Commission, the department's civilian oversight panel, said it's too early to tell if a trend toward overaggressive tactics is developing.
"We are seeing community groups coming to our meetings and talking about the changes in the Police Department and that they appreciate the better communication," she said. "At the same time, we're seeing these incidents. Each of these has to be investigated thoroughly."

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