Lakers Hope for a Repeat; LAPD Doesn't


On what could be the final day of the National Basketball Assn.'s season, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Police Department have opposite goals.

The Lakers want what happened last year to happen again--an NBA championship.

The police, meanwhile, are seeking to ensure that there's no repeat of the chaos that engulfed parts of downtown and beyond after last year's Laker victory.

Shortly after Shaq, Kobe and company vanquished the Indiana Pacers on June 19, a small mob rampaged through the streets surrounding Staples Center. Two police cruisers were set afire and more than 70 cars were damaged, many parked in auto dealerships. A TV news van and several trees were destroyed and about $500,000 to $750,000 in damage was caused to businesses near the downtown arena.

Police arrested 11 people, at least a dozen more were injured, and a city prepping for its biggest event in years--last summer's Democratic National Convention--was shaken.

"Rest assured, we learned from what we went through last year," said Capt. Stuart Maislin, head of the LAPD's Central Division, which patrols downtown. "We made mistakes. We are not going to make the same mistakes this time around."

If the Lakers win tonight, there would be a major difference from last year. The game is in Philadelphia, about 2,400 miles from Staples Center.

Nonetheless, there are likely to be just as many people inside the arena as last year--watching the game on jumbo screens at $10 a ticket.

Last year, after the Lakers won at home, some criticized the LAPD for being too complacent--working to contain rather than to aggressively stop the crowd, particularly as it looted businesses and set fires.

The police say they had a simple concern: If they engaged the crowd, the disturbance could have gotten so out of control they could not have contained it. Police Chief Bernard C. Parks and Mayor Richard Riordan praised the muted response.

This year, although police officials refuse to divulge specific tactics, Maislin promised not only a beefed-up presence, but a different attitude. "There will be little tolerance for illegal activity."

Another difference this year is that Staples Center officials have agreed not to broadcast the game on the Jumbotron screen outside the arena. Maislin hopes that will limit the size of the crowd near the arena.

Though the game will not be played at home, police are responding "as if we are going to have a live event downtown," said LAPD spokesman Lt. Horace Frank, who added that police will keep their current security plan in place if the Lakers lose tonight and return home for Game 6 on Monday. "There's going to be a lot of people there, and we want them to enjoy the festivities with class."

Area businesses hope the LAPD will live up to its promise. But they aren't taking any chances.

A coalition of businesses will have a small band of private security guards manning the streets and assisting the LAPD with surveillance. At Prestige Products, an auto products store that had its plate-glass windows smashed last year, employees have built wooden barriers they plan to fashion around their store.

Said manager Steve Rice: "If we put the barriers up, this place is going to look like Fort Knox. But at least we'll feel more secure."

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