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Web Site Cashes In on Rampart Scandal

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TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Where Los Angeles Police Chief Bernard C. Parks is seeing red over the Rampart scandal, others are seeing green.

A Web site called LAPDgear.com is attempting to capitalize on the scandal. Among the LAPD paraphernalia it offers for sale are T-shirts bearing the Rampart CRASH unit’s controversial emblem.

“Finally available: The highly publicized ‘Aces and Eights’ logo from the Rampart CRASH Unit,” reads the caption below one T-shirt retailing for $16.95.

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The site also hawks clothing adorned with the menacing mascots of the “Shootin’ Newton” Division and that of 77th Street Division, a skull and crossbones with the motto, “77th Street Eat Their Dead.”

“These items are designed and produced by LAPD OFFICERS with the experience and edge that can only come from street combat,” proclaims the site’s welcome page, bearing “Shootin’ Newton’s” trademark cigar-smoking skull in an Army helmet. “You won’t find political correctness here.”

Police critics point to the fact that officers wear such insignias as evidence of the “us against them” mentality that some police officers are accused of having, particularly when it comes to policing inner-city neighborhoods. Several current and former officers in the Rampart Division’s anti-gang CRASH unit said that about a dozen officers in the unit not only wore the emblems on their jackets and sweatshirts but also had themselves tattooed with versions of the grinning skull.

In a scathing self-analysis released by the LAPD last week, department officials cited the Rampart patches and tattoos as artifacts of the division’s troubling culture. Despite public hand-wringing by LAPD officials in the wake of the scandal, police officers have told The Times that they have worn such logos openly, and in front of supervisors, including captains, for years. In fact, an LAPD commander is the proud owner of a T-shirt similar to one featured on the LAPDgear Web site, one officer said.

Ex-Police Officer Wayne Tidwell, who co-owns the site with an active duty Los Angeles police officer, defended the logos.

“Everybody loves to hate cops,” said Tidwell, who worked for the Port Hueneme Police Department for several years in the early 1990s. “All you have is each other and the fact that you love your job. Logos are a part of that camaraderie.”

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Tidwell’s partner asked not to be identified, saying that he feared reprisal from the LAPD for being associated with the Web site.

The officer, who has worked in the Rampart, Newton and 77th divisions, said the logos represent the chaos officers face in what are known as “hot shot” divisions in the LAPD.

“[San Fernando] Valley cops, if they had logos, they’d probably be a latte and a daisy,” he said.

The officer said the business, launched in the fall, is a commercial venture and that it has benefited from the recent controversy surrounding the Rampart patch and tattoos. The shirts, patches, jackets and other items have been selling fast, with orders coming in via the Internet from as far as the East Coast. Advertising has been limited to word of mouth and e-mail sent directly to prospective buyers.

The LAPD officer added that the site is not all about making money. “We’re giving some of it back,” he said, noting that a percentage of profits will go to various police memorial foundations.

The LAPDgear.com site states that it is “UNAUTHORIZED,” and “DEFINITELY not endorsed by the Los Angeles Police Department.”

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“This is most unfortunate,” said LAPD Cmdr. David J. Kalish.

The site includes brief histories of the Newton, 77th Street and Rampart divisions.

Rampart, the LAPD’s second division, covers the most densely populated areas west of New York City. The overall division is represent by the chess piece known as a rook, or castle, and represents the idea that police work is like a chess game in which officers must outthink their opponents, according to the Rampart Division information.

The CRASH unit sports the grinning skull in a cowboy hat with playing cards splayed out behind it.

“Rampart CRASH officers never know what ‘hand’ they will be dealt while routing out the predators of the city,” the Web site explained. “For that reason, the Rampart CRASH officers designed a logo called ‘Aces and Eights,’ the so-called dead man’s hand.”

Both Tidwell and his partner said the bottom line is that a logo is just a logo, that no matter how sinister they may appear they’re not to going to make any difference in the way an officer does his or her job.

“Of course you’re gonna get the liberal people who say, ‘Oh, my God!’ ” the LAPD officer said, raising his voice in mock exasperation.

“Well, hey,” he added, “they’re geeks.”

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