The YouTube video has been out for a while now. For those who haven't seen it, anti-Israeli protestors block a Los Angeles intersection and one of their members climbs some 15-20 feet, in the air, on a traffic light pole to hang a banner. A squad of uniformed LAPD police officers is directed to enter the crowd and take the climbing protestor into custody. Although the climber, individually, is taken into custody without any problem, the crowd chants that he be let go, and that the officer's actions are "shameful." The crowd surges. The officers push back and a protestor goes down.
Off camera, one of the officers is struck in the head with a protest sign. The officer is not wearing a Kevlar ballistic helmet, a standard piece of LAPD issued protective equipment. In fact, none of the officers who were sent into the crowd, a crowd which grew hostile, are wearing their helmets. A controversy has grown wherein the LAPD Brass, represented by Assistant Chief Earl Paysinger and Deputy Chief Terry Hara, are now pitted against the L.A. Police Protective League (LAPPL), the bargaining unit organization which represents the interests of the rank and file members of the department.
Deputy Chief Hara, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, states that he never ordered officers leave their helmets behind. He told them to have them available, and suggested that they not, initially, wear the helmets in order to not intimidate the crowd. Assistant Chief Paysinger told the Times that police work requires both "humanity and common sense" when dealing with situations such as these.
The ACLU, of course, weighs in on the side of the protestors alleging that police helmets might stifle free speech or assembly. I have to wonder how staunch your beliefs are, however, if the mere sight of helmeted cops causes you to clam up. Most protestors usually pointed at us and laughed, or made taunts when we were wearing our helmets.
Getting back to Chief Paysinger's remarks, it's too bad that both common sense and humanity are course topics not currently taught at the Police Academy. Nor are they taught, however, at Command Development School, where newly appointed LAPD captains are supposed to be shown how they'll be doing their jobs, and (supposedly) leading their employees. LAPD might have to rely upon outside instructors to deliver the message.
In the 30+ years I did with LAPD, I remember many officers placed in harm's way, or made to appear ineffective and weak because of LAPD upper management practices.
On a Saturday morning, some 20 years ago, when Operation Rescue began blocking of abortion clinic doorways in Los Angeles, the police responded and were directed to take the protestors into custody. The arrests had to wait though, because it was a rare rainy day in Los Angeles, and the command staff would not allow the officers in the arrest teams to take the protestors into custody until they all had a uniform appearance. Because, seemingly, there was not one consistent set of rain attire among the police (some had rain coats, some had two-piece rain suits, some just the top, some just the pants with a black jacket, etc.), the officers were ordered—after several minutes of agonizing debate—to remove all rain gear and make the arrests, while soaking wet—but all looking alike!
One Hollywood Saturday night, the punk rockers were starting it up on Argyle north of Hollywood. The decision was made to send the (friendly looking) bicycle officers, with their short pants and Styrofoam bike helmets, to try and reason with the punkers. Within minutes, rocks and bottles flew. The bicycle officers radioed that they needed assistance. Officers with (offensive looking) helmets and batons came to their rescue.
Before the May 1st, 2007 McArthur Park incident, there was the May Day 2006 incident, where an LAPD officer lost a testicle to a thrown chunk of concrete. The officers were at the ready, with their helmets and batons, ready to move the crowds back.
A captain and the captain's police officer aide, both helmetless, were surveying the scene. When rocks and bottles rained down, that captain issued an order which goes against the very grain of a squad of police officers facing hostile crowds. That order was, "Retreat!" The hostile crowds won that night. But in the end, so did that captain, rewarded for ordering a retreat, with a promotion to the even more prestigious rank of commander. Trust me, there are more stories—many more.
In the end, the anti-Israeli protestors won at that recent protest in West Los Angeles, too. The guy who climbed to the top of the traffic light signals was able to get away in the resulting fracas.
Odd, isn't it, that the City of Los Angeles probably requires a groundskeeper to wear eye protection when using a leaf blower, yet a police officer can be sent into a hostile crowd at a demonstration without a helmet?
I have to see the senior brass' side; really, I do. Once a big city police supervisor achieves the rank of captain, city council members and other political movers and shakers know their names and probably have their Blackberry number on a one-touch dial button. Staff and command officers get a great salary, a take-home car, and everyone in their staff (at least to their face) laughs at all their jokes and tells them their ideas are just the best. Who wants to place any of that in jeopardy? The idea is to keep the mayor, the council people, and anyone who might contribute to those political campaigns happy with even a weak and timid response. Who, among their patrons, really cares if a cop gets a little banged up in the process?
Come to think of it, Deputy Chief Hara has even more to lose. He was recently highlighted in the LAPPL's newspaper as getting his own take-home police motorcycle, "the only LAPD motorcycle-riding Deputy Chief". But I have to wonder if he'd not wear the helmet, or forego the very pricey leather boots and padded riding pants which are required to be worn while on that bike if someone above his level suggested it?
Editor's Note: Subsequent to the completion of this article, Deputy Chief Hara was cleared of wrongdoing in an internal LAPD investigation.