Reeling from what appeared to be a case of wounded civic pride, city leaders including the mayor and most of the City Council held a pep rally for the Los Angeles Police Department on Tuesday, saying they were fed up with attacks by O.J. Simpson's lawyers on detectives' credibility.
"Some of you may wonder what this rally is about," said one of its organizers, City Councilman Hal Bernson. "I'll tell you. . . . Enough is enough. . . . We understand the fact that defense attorneys have an obligation to defend their clients, but we think that some of the defense attorneys have gone way beyond the bounds of propriety."
Flanked by Mayor Richard Riordan, other council members, Police Chief Willie L. Williams, Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti and police union officials, Bernson was interrupted by applause and whistles from an audience that consisted mainly of officers recruited by their union for a general tribute to the honesty and dedication of members of the force.
Defense lawyer Alan Dershowitz was singled out as the source of most of the group's wrath because of his widely broadcast assertion last week that police officers are trained to lie on the witness stand.
Riordan said he was outraged, Williams called Dershowitz a liar and police union official Dennis Zine said: "When you look at a garbage pit, at the bottom of the garbage pit you'll find Alan Dershowitz."
For his part, Dershowitz, a professor at Harvard Law School, said in a telephone interview from his home in Massachusetts: "I think we ought to de-escalate the rhetoric and stop name-calling."
He challenged rally participants to a debate after the trial, saying he would prove--by citing findings of prosecutors and judges nationwide and citizen commissions in New York and Los Angeles--that police perjury is a pervasive problem.
Dershowitz cited, for example, what he said was a finding by a New York City commission that officers are taught search and seizure rules "with a wink" so that they can conform their testimony to what the law allows. He also mentioned the Christopher Commission finding that a code of silence existed in the LAPD. "What are they silent about?" he asked.
The rally--which drew far fewer officers than recent lobbying efforts to get raises--was in support of a resolution by Bernson and Councilwoman Laura Chick to counteract the "picture painted by attorneys . . . that Los Angeles police officers are incompetent, racist, liars, etcetera."
But political questions about Chief Williams' ability to command the loyalty of his troops served as a backdrop, with Riordan drawing notice by praising the men and women of the Police Department while omitting any mention of the chief; City Council President John Ferraro noting that the chief would get support from officers by speaking out to defend them, and the chief feeling it necessary to point out that this was not the first time he had defended officers under attack.
"This is the 77th time I have spoken out" on the Simpson case, said Williams, who is under investigation by the city Police Commission for alleged improprieties, including accepting free rooms from Las Vegas casinos. He has denied any wrongdoing.
Attempting to puncture defense reasoning in the Simpson case, Williams said: "The defense team has painted this fantasy of about 30 or 40 officers plodding around two dead bodies at 4 o'clock in the morning to deny Mr. Simpson his rights, looking ahead to know we're going to get blood (from Simpson) when he comes back from Chicago the next day, sprinkle (the blood) at the crime scene, sprinkle it on the car, sprinkle it in his house, and then all of them keep silent. . . . It's preposterous."
Williams said department morale is sagging as a result of steady criticism since the Rodney G. King beating and he urged the public to write thank-you notes to police.
Simpson defense attorney Robert L. Shapiro also came in for criticism this week for wearing a blue-ribbon lapel pins--a symbol of loyalty to the LAPD devised by Police Commissioner Art Mattox and Councilwoman Chick--during his cross-examination of a police detective. Ferraro called that gesture "the greatest chutzpah."
Only two council members did not sign the resolution, which "implores the attorneys in this case to be sensitive to the potential damage which is being caused by their tactics." They were Councilwoman Rita Walters, whose staff said she had the flu and had not even been shown a copy, and Councilman Nate Holden, whose office did not respond to requests for an explanation.