Los Angeles Police Chief Willie L. Williams, in his first public comments on a recent rash of attacks on officers, sought Wednesday to stem further violence by pleading with residents to support the force and help track down those who assault police.
"Officers have been shot at in the Valley, shot at in the Westside, shot at Downtown," said a stern-faced Williams. "This has got to stop."
Although ambushes--the type of attack getting the most attention lately--have declined, LAPD statistics show that violence against officers is on a record pace this year.
The most recent developments--three shooting incidents and an anonymous fax threatening officers' lives--come as demoralized officers complain that they are understaffed, outgunned and unappreciated by a city leadership that is refusing to give them a raise.
Two highly emotional court cases also have heightened tensions on the streets. And many officers seem torn between fulfilling their duties and taking part in a job action urged by their union.
The chief's comments appeared to be as much for the benefit of rank-and-file officers as for the general public.
"I think he's trying to send a message to the troops that he's behind them," Dave Zeigler, president of the Police Protective League, said approvingly, even though his organization has criticized Williams in the past. "It means a lot for the officers to hear their chief of police back them up."
Joined by City Council members Rita Walters and Mark Ridley-Thomas, who represent Downtown and South-Central Los Angeles, Williams made his remarks outside the Newton Division station, not far from where one attack occurred. The third attack occurred Tuesday night, after the news conference had been scheduled.
In that incident, police said, a 15-year-old boy stopped for a curfew violation in Venice got off his bike and ran, later turning to fire a 9-millimeter handgun at two anti-gang officers, who escaped injury.
Last week, suspected gang members wounded Officer Ray Mendoza and a 17-year-old arrestee being transported in an unmarked police car. One suspect was arrested, another was fatally shot by officers and a third is being sought.
Also last week, two suspected gang members were arrested and a third was being sought after they allegedly fired at an anti-gang detail in Venice.
Calling the recent violence an unfortunate sign of the times, Williams said he does not believe there is an organized, politically motivated conspiracy to target police.
"These are criminals," Williams said of those who fired upon officers. "They have no political agenda. They have no community agenda whatsoever."
He said he sees no connection with developments in the King and Denny cases, two closely watched court matters.
A jury is deliberating the fate of Damian Monroe Williams and Henry Keith Watson, two men accused of beating trucker Reginald O. Denny and others at the start of last year's riots.
In addition, two LAPD officers convicted of violating Rodney G. King's civil rights were granted a temporary reprieve from prison last week. The appeals by Sgt. Stacey C. Koon and former Officer Laurence M. Powell have since been denied and the two are expected to be imprisoned next week.
Although he did not connect the anti-police violence with those cases, the chief did take seriously the anonymous fax sent to police last week threatening retaliation against white officers after the release of Koon and Powell. As a protective measure, Williams issued a directive that two officers be assigned to all patrol units.
Williams said Wednesday that officers would flood the streets when the verdicts are read in the Denny beating case, the same technique used earlier this year when guilty verdicts were handed down against Koon and Powell.
Williams used the violence to again press for an expansion of the 7,600-member police force. He is working with Mayor Richard Riordan on an expansion plan to be released later this month.
The chief urged residents to call police or the news media with any tips on the recent incidents.
Along with the rise in violence, Williams is grappling with a job action by the Police Protective League, which is seeking a 9% pay raise over four years for its members. Officers began meticulously following internal regulations this week in an attempt to bog down operations and put pressure on city leaders to grant raises.
Participation has been sporadic as many officers find themselves caught between their contract grievances and a sense of heightened uncertainty on the streets.
Statistics show that the recent violence is not an aberration but part of a rising tide of attacks against police officers.
Last year, violent attacks against officers hit a three-year high, with about one in seven officers being assaulted. Police said 1,162 officers were assaulted last year--264 by people with guns and another 132 by people with knives. There have been 789 attacks as of Aug. 31 of this year, a pace that exceeds 1992 levels, police said.
However, "ambushes"--defined as phony calls to police specifically designed to entrap and assault officers--have gone down. There were 60 such incidents in 1991, a figure that dropped to 20 the next year. As of the end of August, there were 11 ambushes this year.
Even that number is far too many for the Police Protective League, which late Wednesday afternoon announced a reward of up to $10,000 for information leading to arrest and conviction of suspects in such cases.
Other officials kept the emphasis on the overall pattern of violence against LAPD officers.
Walters, who represents the district where one attack occurred, agreed.
"It's absolutely imperative that our police officers be able to do their job in protecting the community," Walters said. "To be forced to dodge bullets is something that cannot be tolerated."
* TENSE TIME FOR ROOKIES: New LAPD officers perform well despite high tension. E1