The Justice Department's top civil rights official says the federal government isn't second-guessing local police departments but will prosecute "deliberate and willful" cases of police brutality.

John R. Dunne, assistant attorney general for civil rights, defended the government's record on police abuse cases Wednesday in light of the Los Angeles police videotaped beating case."There is a crisis of confidence in law enforcement in Los Angeles and throughout the country," said Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich. "So far, the Justice Department has yet to demonstrate it is willing to take the action necessary to make people feel safe from the police."

William M. Baker, assistant director of the FBI, joined Dunne before the House Judiciary subcommittee on civil and constitutional rights as it opened the first of several hearings into the March 3 beating of Rodney King, a young black man.

The beating, which left King severely injured, was recorded on a 2-minute-long videotape by an amateur cameraman.

Responding to public furor over the tape, Attorney General Dick Thornburgh said last Friday that the Justice Department would begin reviewing all 15,000 police brutality complaints over the last six years.

The department intends to search for any local patterns of misconduct and is not intended to reopen criminal investigations. Dunne said the department also would look at civil complaints in the Los Angeles area.