Guard Action Delayed by Organization Glitches
The first 2,000 National Guard troops Gov. Pete Wilson sent to help quell the Los Angeles riots were idled in their barracks for much of Thursday by a communications breakdown and a shortage of ammunition, Wilson said.
Midway through the day, Wilson said, he ordered the guard to deploy its units without waiting for more ammunition. He said every unit was sent out with bullets for soldiers to use as needed.
The extra ammunition was supposed to come from Camp Roberts Military Reservation in San Luis Obispo County but was delayed, apparently, because no one gave the order for the shipment to move with the troops.
“This ammunition problem should not have occurred,” Wilson said. “It will not again.”
Wilson first ordered the guard to activate 2,000 reserve soldiers at about 9 p.m. Wednesday. Units began massing at 13 armories throughout Southern California before dawn Thursday.
But as the day wore on, and the looting and violence continued, residents began questioning why the troops had not been deployed to the streets. Administration officials said repeatedly that the soldiers were ready to go but served at the pleasure of local law enforcement authorities.
It was not until his 5 p.m. Capitol news conference that Wilson acknowledged that the state was responsible for part of the delay.
According to Wilson and aides who later clarified his statements, the guards stayed in the armories until noon Thursday because local officials did not request that they move into the streets. This delay apparently came because the local authorities and the guard commanders could not agree on where to send the units.
Wilson does not have the authority to order the guard into action without a request from local officials, so at noon, in a conference call with Sheriff Sherman Block and Police Chief Daryl F. Gates, he urged the officials to request the help, said Dan Schnur, a spokesman for the governor.
The request came, but Wilson learned two hours later that the troops had not moved because their commanders believed that they lacked sufficient ammunition.
“I gave the order that they should take the ammunition they had distributed . . . making it available as needed,” Wilson said. “The order was then to get them out.”
Wilson said he issued that order at about 2 p.m. and reiterated it later “with somewhat greater emphasis.”