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Poor communication, collaboration marred Dorner manhunt, report says

CrimeLaw EnforcementChristopher DornerLos Angeles Police Department
Overall, the Police Foundation report praised the law enforcement agencies involved in the Dorner manhunt.
Police Foundation: "The lack of consistent communication and liaison with local agencies was critical."

As the manhunt for Christopher Dorner unfolded across Southern California last year, efforts to catch the killer were marred by poor communication and collaboration among police departments, an independent report concluded.

On Monday, the Police Foundation, a Washington research group, released a detailed review of how the Los Angeles Police Department and several other agencies responded to the crisis triggered by Dorner, a former LAPD officer who killed four people and wounded others as he sought revenge for his firing.

Overall, the foundation's report praised the work of the many law enforcement agencies involved in the hunt for Dorner that took place over 12 days in February 2013. Its authors acknowledged that Dorner's killing rampage and his promise to target scores of LAPD officers forced several police departments to respond to a fluid, dangerous situation that crossed into different jurisdictions.

The report, however, identified several shortcomings.

One of the notable problems, the report's authors concluded, was the sometimes poor communication and collaboration among police departments. The LAPD, for example, should have done more to notify nearby agencies that it was sending hundreds of its cops outside the city limits to guard the homes of LAPD officers targeted by Dorner.

"The lack of consistent communication and liaison with local agencies was critical," the report concluded. "Most said they would have preferred direct involvement in the planning and execution of the protection measures."

Similarly, the report made mention of a dispute that broke out after Dorner torched and abandoned his truck on a snow-covered mountain road in Big Bear. Investigators from Riverside and Irvine were conducting separate homicide investigations into people Dorner had killed and clashed over who should take the lead on the examination of the truck.

Ultimately, the two sides agreed to cooperate, but the report underscored the episode as "another example of the need for more collaboration by line officers at the onset of a complex and emotional incident."

Most troubling, the report found, was the scene at the cabin in the woods in Big Bear where Dorner was finally cornered.

As word spread that Dorner was trying to flee the Big Bear area in a stolen SUV, hundreds of officers from throughout the region descended on the mountain community without any orders to do so.

The huge influx of well-intentioned but uninformed cops — many of whom showed up unprepared for the wintry mountain conditions — made a chaotic situation far messier and more dangerous, the report found. The roads around the cabin were clogged with officers, many brandishing high-powered weapons despite not even being within sight of the cabin.

The foundation called on department leaders to establish and enforce rules that would prevent officers from responding to a unfolding scene until the agency in charge requests them.

In comments to reporters Monday, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck acknowledged the final standoff at the cabin was unnecessarily chaotic.

"We have to control that," he said of officers flooding the area. "But you know, they're going there for the right reasons. And so we need to do a good job of managing that. We've had some success in the recent past. But that's always something to look out for."

After a gunfight with officers who had surrounded the cabin, Dorner ignored commands to surrender. Tear gas canisters fired by police ignited a fire. As the cabin became engulfed, Dorner killed himself with a gunshot.

joel.rubin@latimes.com

Twitter: @joelrubin

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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