Police are left asking: What is the point?

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Los Angeles - The officers of the Los Angeles Police Department, who apparently believed almost to a man that OJ Simpson was guilty well beyond reasonable doubt, were yesterday given the job of closing the streets and shooing off onlookers as he partied inside the walls of his Los Angeles estate, Tim Cornwell writes.

With detectives' morale shattered by the acquittal, the department faced calls for a new investigation of the murders of Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman. And in Washington the US Justice Department has promised to push ahead with investigating the allegations of police misconduct that were raised in the trial.

Los Angeles police were stunned and bitter over the verdict, believing that there was more than enough evidence for a conviction. But the only juror to give an extensive account of the jury's deliberations yesterday laid the blame squarely on doubts about the department.

"It was garbage in, garbage out," said juror No 6, Lionel Cryer, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.

The jury felt that the police had such a bad track record that they could have set out to nail OJ Simpson at all costs, he said. In particular, Mr Cryer mentioned the claim made by Mr Simpson's defence that crucial blood samples had been contaminated.

It seemed that the allegations of institutionalised racism, which have dogged the Los Angeles police since the videotaped beating of Rodney King, had weighed heavily with the elder of the two white women on the jury, Anise Aschenbach, 60.

Ms Aschenbach thought that Mr Simpson had probably committed the murders, her daughter, Denise said. But "this was the only answer they could come up with because the involvement with [former Detective Mark] Fuhrman in the case somehow screwed up the evidence."

The Los Angeles police chief, Willie Williams, said yesterday that the case was "absolutely not an indictment of my department. The results of this trial are not going to result in the rebuilding of the LAPD". The mayor, Richard Riordan, urged the city to look at officers who "protect and serve Angelenos with honour".

But black community leaders called on the district attorney to investigate Mr Fuhrman for perjury. Mr Fuhrman had pleaded his constitutional right to refuse cross-examination of his claim that he not used the word "nigger" in 10 years and his own boasts of tampering with evidence.

The defence suggested that the two senior officers, Mr Fuhrman and Detective Mark Van Atter, were driven by racism to fabricate evidence against Mr Simpson, planting blood samples and a glove that were found at his estate.

"Mark Fuhrman confirmed what most African-Americans have felt right along and known all along," John Mack, the president of the Urban League, said. "In South-Central Los Angeles, too many Mark Fuhrmans have harassed and brutalised people," he said.

In media interviews, one police officer after another vented their frustrations in a department that has suffered one self-delivered blow to its prestige after another. "What's the point," said one. "Let's fold up the tent."