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Crowds, Glass Houses and Basic Cop Math

May 31st, 2007 by Celeste Fremon


As we head into a few days of (hopefully) no dramatic LAPD news
, here are a few wrap ups on this week’s remaining department issues:


At yesterday’s City Council meeting, Bill Bratton said that he is making Deputy Chief Michael Hillman the head of a newly-created Critical Management Bureau
—which will now be the entity called out to do future crowd control instead of those Metro guys. Hillman who, despite his vaguely militaristic vibe and his penchant for gee-whiz gadgets (the man loves helicopters), is earnest, likable and very well-regarded by the troops. Plus he’s something of a national expert in crowd management.

Whatever functional difference the Hillman appointment does or doesn’t make
, it’s another signal that Bratton takes the various intricacies of the May Day problem seriously.


The LA Times reports that, at that same meeting, former Chief and present day City Council member
, Bernard Parks brought his own show-and-tell set up to play after Bratton and Assistant Chief Jim McDonnell repeated the May Day Power Point that they’d give the day before to the Police Commission:

Some council members suggested that a long-term problem with Los Angeles Police Department culture was involved. Councilman Bernard C. Parks showed a video from community members suggesting that the melee was the latest in a series of excessive-force incidents during Bratton’s nearly five-year tenure.

Now we all know that Bernard Parks is genuinely powerless in the face of his Katrina-sized hatred of Bill Bratton. (Keep coming back, Bernie. It works, if you work it.) Still, how Parks managed to say this stuff with a straight face is, in itself, an accomplishment—since, to counter the accusations, all Bratton had to do is turn around to the video-wielding Councilman and utter a single word: RAMPART

Note to Bernie: Try following the lead of Rudy Giuliani, who famously loathed Bill Bratton too
, yet in a KFWB interview this week, Rudy couldn’t have sounded more kissy-kissy. Disingenuous? Probably. But also practical. And far less tedious for the rest of us.


One last thing: Yes, the LAPD needs to take a hard look at some of the subtle—and not so subtle— mindsets
still favored by too many of its officers that, when given free rein, lead to incidents like May Day melees…..BUT..

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in ACLU, Bill Bratton, Police | 10 Comments »

May Day Melee Report – Part 2

May 30th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon


Okay, so on Tuesday morning the LAPD—in the person of Chief Bill Bratton and Assistant Chief Jim McDonnell-
–gave the first bounce to the Police Commission in what will eventually be a fuller report on the May Day melee. They did it with an elaborate and lengthy Power Point that included police surveillance videos, the stuff that we’ve all seen on YouTube, plus TV news clips and some of the department’s radio broadcasts.

Both the cops-can-do-no-wrong crowd, and the unwavering LAPD haters
have, predictably, found things to criticize in the report (too big, too small, too hot, too cold, blamed the department too much, didn’t blame the department enough…yadda, yadda, yadda). But, for most part, what was said Tuesday morning seemed a good first stage in a reasonably honest attempt to sort things out.

While the union has focused on the need for additional training
(not a bad idea. their list of suggestions here), Bratton and McDonnell didn’t let the department off the hook quite so easily. The chief even took some stabs at some of the tricky-to-quantify culture issues that many of us cop-watchers have long been talking about [See my earlier rants here and here].

For instance…..


Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Bill Bratton, Civil Liberties, LAPD, Police | 7 Comments »

The May Day Commission Report – Part 1

May 29th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon


LAPD Chief Bill Bratton is going in front of the Police Commission today
to give the first of his reports on what really happened on May Day.

We know that a number of things—like whacking non-combative reporters with batons, for example— are out of policy. Whether Bratton will say so today is unclear.

Meanwhile the Police union has shot off their own preemptive strike against anything too negative, by issuing a list of new training procedures and crowd control protocols needed to prevent future May Days—with special emphasis on the Metro division. The list is, for the most part, quite constructive and non-defensive.

(Although one, frankly, should not need much extra training to know that one shouldn’t engaged in the above-mentioned reporter whacking. In other words, there were other, more complex issues in play on May Day, than mere lack of training.)

I’m busy with another project for the next few hours. But back shortly with more thoughts and updates.

Posted in City Government, Civil Liberties, crime and punishment, immigration, LAPD, Police | 3 Comments »

Gangs, Arnold and Playing Politics

May 29th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon


On Friday, Arnold Schwarzenegger unveiled a “sweeping new” $48 million dollar gang plan.
(I love sweeping new plans, don’t you?) The plan comes complete with lots of “cracking down” (Yawn, been there….over and over and over again), some gee-whiz gadgetry in the form of satellite electronic tracking devices to be strapped on the ankles of truly bad gang members, and….the new must-have accessory for all 2007 gang crack downs: A GANG CZAR.

It’s not that I don’t think a gang czar is a good idea, it’s that the chances of getting someone who has the breadth of knowledge and experience to genuinely problem solve in the arena of gang violence are….well, I wouldn’t bet the ranch on it. Plus, in order for them to have a prayer of being even slightly effective, said Czar would need some real control and authority. This is likely to happen….let’s see, what’s the term I’m looking for? Oh, yeah. Never. Given what Arnold is suggesting now, it appears to be one step above a vanity position—in other words, another committee head.

Since, the state is facing a $3 billion budget shortfall, it’s unclear where the $48 million is actually going to will come from anyway. Plus the democrats, quite rightly said that the plan has virtually nothing planned for prevention and intervention, that it’s mostly a strategy to beef up law enforcement.

And in a sop to the CCPOA-–the prison guards’ union—Arnold wants to add 70 new corrections officers to try to do something about the prison gangs that all but run certain of the state’s correctional institutions. (And they will do what exactly, to accomplish this?) Unfortunately, this seems emblematic of the governor’s approach to most criminal justice issues in the state: build more prisons; hire more guards.

The state, like the city of Los Angeles, has very real gang problems that call for the will and the willingness to craft the kind of comprehensive and creative approach that we have yet to see come out of either city or state leadership. Connie Rice’s Advancement Project report pointed the way to the kind of thinking necessary to get started. Yet it has all but been ignored.

Instead we get new “sweeping plans” that look a lot like old sweeping plans—or, as they say in Texas, all hat and no cattle. Politics as usual.

Posted in ACLU, crime and punishment, Gangs, prison policy | 20 Comments »

In Memorium, 2007

May 28th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon

Arlington West, May 27, 2007arlington-west-close-up.jpg

In the year since last Memorial day, Americans have buried 980 more of their sons and daughters killed serving in Iraq.
The figure is higher than last year’s count and is expected to rise at a still more rapid rate in coming months.

Another 94 American service people were killed in Afghanistan.

As of yesterday, the total number of US troops killed in Iraq since the US-led invasion stands at 3454.

Three-fourth of those killed were under 30 years old.

The photos, taken Sunday afternoon, are of Arlington West, the temporary memorial for American troops killed in Iraq that is erected every Sunday in the sand just north of the pier at Santa Monica Beach, by the Los Angeles chapter of Veterans for Peace.

Posted in Government, Life in general, National politics | 14 Comments »

Happy Weekend….and Beware of the Crazy Hippie Hill People

May 25th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon


Posting will be light over the next three days.
(Back in full force on Tuesday.) In addition to grading the first drafts of stories from my fabulously smart UC Irvine students, it’s…..TOPANGA DAYS weekend!

For those of you who don’t live in LA (or if you do, but you’re citified types who consider the out-of-doors to be the distance between your house and the car)….a quick rundown:

Topanga Days is the yearly 3-day, sorta weird,
semi-post-hippie country fair/music festival held every Memorial Day weekend in the chaparral-covered, coyote and rattlesnake-haunted hills of Topanga Canyon.

Along with the fair,
on Saturday there’s the Tough Topanga 10K, which—due to its uphill/downhill nature—lives up to its name.Then on Monday at 9 am, there’s the Topanga Days Parade. Everyone in town turns out for the thing—either to be in the parade or to watch it.

Topanga Days parade floats are…..peculiar
. Often they’re the result of someone waking up early on parade morning, turning to their spouse or S.O., and saying “Fred, how about we prune some’a those overgrown vines in the yard and duct tape ‘em to the kids and to the pick-up….”
In the years when my now-21 year old could still be embarrassed by his mother, I used to rollerblade the parade route with another middle-aged Topanga mom—each of us wearing snazzy tie-dyed get ups, plus fairy wings and tiaras. Now I just watch others make blissful fools of themselves.

So come on up to the hills.
And leave your sensible adult judgment at home. You won’t be needing it.

PS: The beautiful young women in the parade day photo are kids I’ve known since before they could walk. Now they’re graduating college.

Community—where ever and however you find it—is a very good thing.

Posted in Life in general | 13 Comments »

I’ve Got a Robe and I’m Not Afraid To Use It! – UPDATED

May 25th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon


This month’s Harvard Law Review
has an article that calls for judges to engage in civil disobedience when the circumstances are sufficiently right for it—meaning when the demands of the law are sufficiently wrong.

Framing it in those terms is an interesting concept. It calls for judges to overturn the furniture, so to speak, if the cause is righteous. The HLR is specifically aiming at the draconian federal sentencing minimums that a weak-kneed Congress has been too cowardly to revise.

As their case in point, the Harvard folks’ refer to a 2006 ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals called United States v. Hungerford.
In this case, the court was asked to review a mandatory sentence imposed on a deeply screwed-up and pathetic Montana woman named Marion Hungerford who passively participated in a string of low-level robberies with her creep boyfriend. (She was never actually present at the robberies. But she knew about them, engaged to some degree in discussing and/or planning them, and benefited from the stolen money.) The creep boyfriend made a deal with prosecutors and got 32 years. Hungerford, who had no previous criminal record, took the case to trial, lost and got……159 years.

The 9th circuit was asked to decide whether Hungerford’s obviously disproportionate sentence should remain in place.
Since there is nothing in the law indicating that it shouldn’t (and plenty of precedent indicating that it should), the court went ahead and upheld the sentence—although most everyone involved agreed that, while legally sound, morally the decision sucked.

The sentence was “immensely cruel, if not barbaric”
wrote 9th Circuit Judge Stephen Reinhardt, and again urged Congress to revise the mandatory minimums.

The HLR says the court has a moral obligation to do more-
–that if lawmakers won’t get a grip and do the right thing, judges can and should take the lead.

“By dutifully affirming a lengthy and inappropriate prison sentence
,” writes the SLR, “the Hungerford judges passed up a chance to engage in a powerful, symbolic act of civil disobedience —the kind of direct public repudiation of unwise and unjust laws that has been central to social change throughout our history.”

In California, the idea is particularly attractive since we have a pack of grossly overblown mandatory minimums that have crammed our prisons to double their capacity. Yet our spineless legislature and governor were so afraid being called soft on crime that, instead of the sentencing reform and prisoner rehabilitation programs promised, they passed AB900—a bill that will spend $6.1 billion building more prisons.

(In fact, if existing trends continue, says the San Francisco Chronicle,
California will soon become the first big state in America to spend more on prisons than on colleges. Wooo-hooo! How cool are we?!!!!)

So bring on the “radical” judges. Hey, whatever works.

UPDATE & NOTE: Hat tip to Doug Berman’s wonderful blog, Sentencing, Law and Policy, for pointing to the HLR piece to begin with, and also to commenter Richard L. Cicero, who reminds me I should tell you that this is a “casenote,” which means it’s an article on the significance of a single case written by a law student.

The whole article/casenote
is worth reading, but here’s a bit more of the heart of the HLR argument:

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Civil Rights, Courts, crime and punishment | 13 Comments »


May 25th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon


They’ve caught Reggie!

Or at least they’ve caught somebody.

Gator Watch is over……Janice Hahn is emotional…… Reggie is not at all happy.

The Daily Breeze has the decidedly bittersweet story.

Posted in bears and alligators, environment | 6 Comments »

Hospital Heal Thyself

May 24th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon


Last year, scandal-ridden King-Drew Medical Center
had its staff and services slashed, was put under the management of another, more successful hospital, and was renamed as Martin Luther King Jr-Harbor—all in the hope of saving the facility that, for all its troubles, is crucial to many South LA communities

But did it get better?

Last week a story broke in the LA Times about a woman named Edith Isabel Rodriguez
who was writhing in pain on the floor of the emergency room at Martin Luther King Jr. Harbor hospital, but no one treated her. She died on the ER linoleum.

MLK hospital and county officials insist that the woman’s death, while a tragic situation, was not in the least typical of the newly reformed MLK. “It’s not systemic,” they said.

Yet I happened upon another MLK-Harbor hospital story that occurred two months before Rodriguez died. It suggests otherwise.

The story is running in this week’s LA Weekly
But here are a few excerpts…

NOTE: The man in the story, Juan Ponce, was first brought into the hospital by blinding headaches.

…..in late February, Ponce understood he was in trouble. Barely able to walk, he asked his brother to drive him to the nearest emergency room — Martin Luther King Jr.–Harbor Hospital, a sprawling facility on South Wilmington Boulevard south of the 105 freeway.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in health care | 14 Comments »

LA Schools Progress Report – Charter Schools: 2, LAUSD: 0

May 24th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon

Hot on the heels of the Green Dot/LAUSD battle for the hearts, souls, real estate and per student dollars that make up Locke High School—with the advantage, thus far, going to the Green Dot Charter Schools—we have another splashy charter schools move.

At a press conference this morning, LA’s main zillionaire mogul and purse-string school reformer, Ely Broad, together with former Mayor Richard Riordan, will announce a $6.5 million gift by Broad to another up-and-coming charter group, the Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools. The gift will allow the Alliance to open several new schools, with three of them planned for this fall in the areas around Jefferson, Fremont and Locke High Schools.

The $6.5 million comes on top of $10 million Broad gave to Green Dot last year.

The LA Times reports this morning that right now about 6% of the roughly 708,000 students in the district attend charter schools.
Next fall that number is expected to go lots higher.

Posted in Education, Green Dot, LAUSD | 9 Comments »

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