Betrayal, not bullets, is what cops fear

Jack Dunphy is the pseudonym of a Los Angeles police officer who writes a column for National Review Online.

IT HAS NEVER BEEN more dangerous to be a Los Angeles police officer. The danger lies not only in the risk of being shot, stabbed or otherwise injured. We train and mentally prepare for those times when we are called to put our lives on the line. But there is a danger, more difficult to prepare for, and it is more evident today than at any time in my two decades with the LAPD.

Chances are that as you read this, I am riding in a police car through one of Los Angeles’ rougher neighborhoods. At any moment I may be assigned to a violent crime in progress, and I will go there as quickly as I can and try to arrest the perpetrator, placing myself between predator and prey if necessary. Or I may turn a corner and find myself in the middle of a gang shootout. The participants would just as soon shoot at me as at their rivals.

I accept these risks each day as I put on the uniform of my profession. What is much more difficult to accept, and all but impossible to prepare for, is the risk to my family’s security if I survive an encounter by means that deviate even slightly from the way things are taught in the controlled environment of the Police Academy. The decisions I make in the blink of an eye, decisions that will either save my life or get me killed, will be scrutinized by people with no understanding of what it feels like to be attacked, to suddenly have your pants on the pavement as you wonder if you’re going to make it home.


Worse, the decision to prosecute me or to fire me from the LAPD may rest in the hands of people whose allegiances to political constituencies outweigh their commitment to fairness. And from the point of view of the city’s police officers, the fairness has been all but drained from the department’s disciplinary system.

Consider the fate of John Hatfield, the Southeast Division officer who in June 2004 was shown on television hitting car thief Stanley Miller with a flashlight at the end of a vehicle pursuit and foot chase. Hatfield was fired last month despite the fact that Miller suffered only minor injuries when he was arrested. It would be hard to find a cop on the street today who didn’t believe that Hatfield was sacrificed to appease those elements in the city who threaten “unrest” if their wishes are ignored.

Next to find his head on the block was Officer Steven Garcia, who last February shot and killed 13-year-old Devin Brown at the end of another high-speed chase. Brown was driving a stolen car when he attempted to evade arrest. But while Miller chose to flee on foot when he was cornered, Brown elected to ram a police car. John Mack, at the time the president of the Los Angeles Urban League, spoke with reporters after the Brown shooting. “It’s sickening,” he said. “This shooting represents another tragedy inflicted on our community by an LAPD officer.... “ On Fox News Channel’s “The O’Reilly Factor,” Mack stated flatly that Garcia should not have shot Brown. “[The officers] were out of the car and in no danger whatsoever, and Officer Garcia unloaded 10 rounds, three, four into the car, into young Devin Brown.... “

Despite Mack’s long history of hostility toward the LAPD, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa appointed him to the Police Commission, where he now sits as president. Will Garcia get a fair hearing from this man when the commission examines the Brown shooting? I doubt it.

And now we have Tony Muhammad, a man who came to South Los Angeles looking for a confrontation with police and got one, thereby raising his profile and presumably his chances of succeeding the ailing Louis Farrakhan as leader of the Nation of Islam. When Muhammad was taken to the 77th Street Division police station, a deputy chief spent more than an hour consoling him in his cell. The officers who witnessed this say they took it as an ominous sign.

The rise in officer morale that accompanied William J. Bratton’s appointment as chief of the LAPD has now ebbed. Officers are again beginning to follow a “drive-and-wave” policy as they did under former Chief Bernard C. Parks. They are again avoiding confrontations with those who most deserve to be confronted. As John Hatfield and Steven Garcia discovered too late, sometimes fighting crime doesn’t pay.