Covering only the LAPD’s bad side
In its most recent editorial about the May Day demonstrations at MacArthur Park, The Times again showed its historic disregard for facts and history in its coverage of the Los Angeles Police Department and in its slavish devotion to the concept of police “reform,” regardless of cost, consequences or wisdom.
The editorial, published in response to the Oct. 9 release of the LAPD’s report on the MacArthur Park disturbance, described the scene at the park as “chaos” resulting from “missteps” by the department.
How did this terrible situation come to pass? Well, the editorial noted, among other things, that training “seems to have lapsed perilously -- the Metropolitan Division’s basic training course was cut in 2005.” It also described Chief William Bratton’s ongoing struggles with the department’s “cultural and institutional defects” connected to this lapse.
Yet, astonishingly, the paper failed to point out that it was Bratton’s own decision to eliminate that training. Instead, the editorial praised the chief’s “deserved” second term and his “impressive response” to the events of May 1. It seems that publicly condemning your subordinates for problems you helped cause impresses The Times.
Sadly, this intellectual dissonance is true to form. Looking back at The Times’ coverage of the LAPD, it’s easy to see decades of factual omissions, routine second-guessing of police officers and a consistent support of activist agendas.
For instance, the “Rampart scandal” is a frequent point of reference for The Times, in both news stories and editorials. Yet the paper rarely mentions that four of the nine Rampart officers were not ultimately convicted of the charges against them -- and that three of them have successfully sued the city for “malicious prosecution.” (The city is appealing the $15-million jury award.) As late as the summer of 2006, a Times story opened with a reference to the nine prosecutions, ignoring their outcomes except in an info box at the end of the 1,828-word article.
To be sure, there is absolutely no excuse for the misdeeds of the other five. Still, this “scandal” turned out to be far less than some had projected. In February 2000, The Times quoted cop-turned-crook Rafael Perez as saying that 90% of the LAPD’s gang officers falsified information. Yet five convictions are all that resulted. Imagine the consternation in The Times if 33% of all gang prosecutions resulted not in convictions but in successful lawsuits against the city. But, when cops are wronged, it’s a mere footnote.
In fact, even when LAPD officers give their lives, the Times’ editorial page hardly seems to notice. Since the Rodney King incident in 1991, The Times has devoted far too few editorials to honoring fallen LAPD officers. In that time, 20 officers have died in the line of duty, including eight who were murdered. One editorial was in 1998 -- but it took three cop killings in 11 months, culminating with the shooting of Officer Brian Brown in a pursuit that ended at LAX, to get the attention of the editorial board that time. Another was in 1996, when Officer Mario Navidad was slain just three days before Christmas while searching for a teenager who had stolen two six-packs of beer from a 7-Eleven in the Fairfax neighborhood.
The Times has, on the other hand, been willing to use the death of cops to promote its own politically correct agenda. A one-sentence mention of Officer Christy Lynn Hamilton’s 1994 killing, for instance, was leveraged for an editorial advocating gun control. And the only editorial from L.A.'s newspaper of record on the murder of Officer Tina Kerbrat focused not on the tragedy itself -- but on chastising then-Chief Darryl Gates for expressing anger that Kerbrat’s killer was an “El Salvadoran drunk” and an illegal immigrant. The Times called those comments “utterly inappropriate to the situation” and demanded that he apologize.
By contrast, The Times never misses a chance to second-guess officers’ use-of-force, criticism that often is not borne out after a full examination of the facts. In the 40 months since an officer struck suspected car thief Stanley Miller with a flashlight, The Times has lambasted the LAPD in repeated editorials regarding three incidents -- the Miller case, a few punches at William Cardenas, who was allegedly resisting arrest, and the shooting of alleged teenage car thief Devin Brown. These incidents resulted in one officer fired and no criminal prosecutions.
Just four days after the Brown incident, the first of three related editorials blasted LAPD’s “Lingering Shoot-First Culture.” Yet there was no quick-draw apology when Officer Steve Garcia, the policeman who killed Brown, was ultimately exonerated by the LAPD’s Board of Rights, or when the district attorney decided not to press charges against him. The only formal review to find fault with Garcia was the politically charged Police Commission, and that vote was not unanimous.
The Times consistently gives activists broad latitude yet utterly fails -- in either its news pages or opinion pages -- to report their corrosive effects on the force. It praises the federal consent decree -- a tedious system of triplicate investigations, audits and paperwork procedures -- under which the LAPD now operates. Yet it has never reported that officer-involved shootings (as a percentage of arrests) have actually climbed to 125% of the three-year pre-decree average. This should raise questions about the decree’s effectiveness or even whether it was originally necessary.
The exodus of LAPD officers to other departments is also rarely mentioned in the paper. When officers Troy Zeeman and Bryan Gregson earned the California Medal of Valor from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for their heroic efforts to take a known gang member into custody -- efforts that led to a pursuit and a running gun-battle -- The Times didn’t write a word about it in the news pages or the editorial pages. So the paper didn’t have the opportunity to note that by the time the officers received their medals, they were no longer with the LAPD and had fled to the Newport Beach Police Department. They left, they told me, to escape the post-consent decree environment in which officers who defend themselves from assault are routinely treated -- practically and legally -- as suspects. Zeeman and Gregson were both questioned by the department for more than a dozen hours after their incident, even though the suspect (who lived) had fired first. Zeeman told me that no amount of money would have enticed him to stay at the LAPD.
But you won’t read that in The Times.
In the recent MacArthur Park editorial, The Times’ quoted liberally (pun intended) from the politically tinged police report on the disturbances, utterly ignoring the most obvious sources of insight -- cops who were there. Talk to them (as I have) and they will describe supervisors who are afraid to act for fear of becoming the next Steve Garcia -- excoriated for doing the right thing.
Perhaps these voices aren’t reflected in Times’ coverage because officers are reluctant to be quoted, distrustful of The Times’ historic quest to find fault with their every action and fearful of the LAPD’s notoriously vengeful management.
The fact is that, on May 1, police commanders whose stripes, bars and stars were accumulated by avoiding all risk -- including that of a Times’ editorial scolding -- found themselves utterly unprepared for the realities of policing. When forceful action became unavoidable, it was predictably haphazard and disorganized.
It’s no surprise. With The Times’ blatant support, liberals who disdain all violence and thus know nothing of its efficient application have for years influenced LAPD policy. They regard those who say “to have peace, prepare for battle,” as brutes and Neanderthals. As a result, the LAPD was as prepared for a riot as an ACLU lawyer or Times editorial writer would have been.
Robert C. J. Parry is a businessman working on a book about his experiences in the Army National Guard in Iraq.