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].
[READ THE REST OF THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE INCONCLUSIVE ELEMENTS OF THE REPORT…. AFTER THE JUMP]
…..Bratton talked about Metro units as having an “isolated” culture, and that they even had their own separate Christmas parties…..a fact that the Chief, rightly, considered to be a subtle but problematic sign.
McDonnell and Bratton both talked about the various police actions on May First that weren’t legal. They pointed, for instance, to the way the dispersal order was given—using a helicopter blasting an unintelligible message—and to the fact that the crowd was never instructed where they ought to go, which routes the police wanted them to take, and how much time they had to take them—all very basic tenets of LAPD crowd control.
Bratton also talked about an “chaotic breakdown” in leadership that day, and how the command staff guy who gave the go-ahead to use the “non-lethal” weapons was blocks away from the action and that the Deputy Chief on scene gave zero orders or direction.
“At this point in time,” he said, “we can’t explain it, that you have a two-star chief that’s engaged in the middle of the activity and makes no effort to control it at all.”
There are a lot of things Bratton and McDonnell haven’t quite yanked apart and parsed-–most obviously they have not really addressed the question as to why in the world the officers were using the batons and the nasty, little projectile-shooting firearms on people who could, in no way be construed as being dangerous or aggressive. They have not conclusively said that using the weapons in the manner we saw on video was decidedly against LAPD policy. But, I believe they will get there—mainly because a number of higher ups have already privately observed that the “bean bag” bullets and the batons were assuredly out of line.
Among others, Stolz talked to Deputy Chief Charlie Beck (a good, smart guy, currently heading South Bureau) and LAPD sergeant, Sunil Dutta, (another good, smart guy). Both Beck and Dutta suggested that, after the cops came in contact with the bottle throwing agitators, some officers got on the radio and portrayed the threat as greater than it really was. And that a chain of overreactions likely followed.
Beck maintains it “made no sense” to clear a large park when a handful of people in one corner were throwing bottles at police. The veteran cop also notes that when bottles started flying, officers at the scene broadcast an “officer needs help call.” Few radio calls get your adrenaline flowing faster, says Sgt. Sunil Dutta.
Sunil Dutta: ‘Cause there is a code below that and that is “officer needs assistance.” And there is a code below that, “hey, I need an additional unit.'” So you’re talking about the most distressing thing you hear on the radio. And you rarely hear it.
In another of his broadcasts, Stolze snatched McDonnell , just after the Assistant Chief finished his Power Point, and asked him why—adequate leadership or no adequate leadership—individual officers repeatedly whacked reporters with video cameras and shot non-lethal bullets at panicked immigrant parents.
McDonnell sighed unhappily. “I can’t explain it,” he said.
That answer won’t always be acceptable, of course. After the various reports conclude— the LAPD’s and others—we will need something a bit more informative.
But for now, it’s likely that the man who is overseeing the department’s examination of the May Day mess—smart, decent Irish cop McDonnell—-is telling us the best truth he’s got.