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To this end, Diaz has already added a lot of problem-based, critical-thinking-oriented classes, but it's nowhere near enough, he says: "The Canadian Mounted Police have an academy that is entirely scenario-based." The idea is to create critical thinkers, not just tactical experts, people who can not only shoot a gun brilliantly but who also know when to shoot the damn thing -- and more important, when not to. "When recruits graduate from the RCMP they are more able to make mature, independent, humanistic judgments than recruits from elsewhere." The mark he'd like to leave on the academy, says Diaz, is to move it as close to that model as humanly possible.
"Of course, training all by itself isn't going to solve everything," says Diaz. "It has to be part of a bigger system. The hope is that there would be an alignment throughout the department where everyone understood what's important -- which is the best possible delivery of police services to the public. We all say in our platitudes and our management principles that we work for the public, but we haven't always behaved as if we mean it."
When it's time for me to leave, Diaz walks me out to the academy's parking lot. On the way, we pass two female cadets who stand straight and still in the blinding midday sunshine, although the training officer who has commanded them to this position is nowhere to be seen.
Diaz glances at the immobilized cadets briefly and then away. "You know, most of us are good soldiers," he says finally. "We take our cue from the top. So if we're serious about things like community policing, then the leaders of the LAPD have to show by word and deed that they really do want ä to work with the various communities, that they do want to listen to other people, so that the cop on the beat knows that it's okay to open up to a more humanistic approach."
But for that, of course, we would need the one thing that Los Angeles has never had: an enlightened police chief.
WHILE GASCON AND DIAZ HAVE LEFT imprints on training-delivery style, much of the content is still firmly dictated from the top floors of LAPD's Parker Center headquarters, and the chasm between these two perspectives can be unsettling.
A perfect example is the case of the roll-call videos, many of which are assigned in response to the newest whim or worry that has grabbed the attention of the Big Brass. Terry Cleary is the person who actually writes the scripts for the 12-to-15-minute training videos that the department turns out every few months for the divisions to use, quite literally, at roll call. Right now Cleary is researching two scripts, one on suicide bombers, the second in response to a new program instituted by Parker Center called RIDS -- Reduction in Dog Shooting (a title suggesting that the LAPD is in dire need of acronym consulting). It seems that too many police officers have been shooting too many civilian dogs. This occurs when, say, an officer hops a fence into somebody's yard while chasing a suspect and encounters a German shepherd defending its territory. "Maybe the thing is planning to take off his leg, or maybe the officer doesn't have much experience with animals, so he panics and shoots the dog," says Cleary. In any case, if a cop caps somebody's pet, there is inevitably a complaint filed. "And our department really doesn't like complaints," says Cleary. Hence RIDS and the video.
"Dog interest groups don't want us to use pepper spray, because that's too cruel," explains Cleary, his tone reeking of cynicism. "I called some Hollywood animal trainers for some tips. They have vials of ammonia attached to the end of a cane that's been wrapped with gauze. If the dog gets ferocious, they smack the cane on the ground, the vial breaks, the ammonia goes into the gauze, they put it under the dog's nose and it runs away. They use it on lions and tigers, too. But that's considered inhumane by . . ."
The dog owners? "Oh, please," says Cleary. "We don't use the term 'owners' anymore. It's 'dog guardians.' Get your terms straight."
When I ask Sergio Diaz about the dog tape, he rolls his eyes. "RIDS," he says. "Did you know we handle the investigation of the dog shooting as if we were investigating a person -- which means it costs easily five grand, maybe more? Of course, we need to stop shooting dogs, but with some things you would just naturally assume there's a body of knowledge. The real question is: Why don't we already have a policy for this? And why is compulsive 'risk reduction' where the LAPD so frequently puts its already stretched resources?"
On my next trip to academy grounds, I stop by a small store that sells police uniforms and other LAPD-related products. In the store's window, three T-shirts are prominently displayed, all with extravagant drawings of buffed-out cops wearing elaborate tactical gear. In one, the SWAT-suited figures clutch a humongous battering ram. Underneath each drawing is a caption: "Showtime," "Knock-knock," and best of all, "We make house calls." Inside, a sales clerk assures me that these shirts are by far the store's biggest sellers, and it occurs to me that Diaz and Gascon's new humanistic LAPD may still be elusive.