By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
To remedy the situation, Chief William Bratton has succeeded in prying $6 million out of the cash-strapped City Council, some of which will go to buy up-to-date gas masks and protective suits for every officer in the department. But in state and city government, nothing is ever simple. So before the masks et al. could be ordered, the department learned that oversight agencies like Cal-OSHA and California POST (Peace Officer Standards and Training) might require every officer to receive 16 hours of training (plus additional time to fit the masks) before they are allowed to wear any of the protective gear — training that would be untenably time-consuming to design and deliver. “It was a mess,” says Diaz. A few days ago, the LAPD succeeded in negotiating the training down to eight hours, half of which it is hoping can be credited to the Module 6 class that most officers are already receiving. “Four hours we can live with,” says Diaz.
Until then, the rank and file are stuck with the 1985 filters. “Which does not exactly make us feel protected,” grumbles an officer. “You know what the Fire Department calls us? They call us the ‘blue canaries.’ Great.”
On the other hand, counterterrorism seems to involve weighing of probabilities against possibilities, and, in terms of probability, the gas masks might not matter. “Conventional explosives are still the highest threat to Los Angeles,” says John Miller, the head of the LAPD’s Counter Terrorism Bureau. (Originally called Homeland Security, the bureau was recently re-christened to avoid confusion with Tom Ridge and the feds, either that or because the new title looks snazzier on business cards.) “Al Qaeda has typically used truck bombs. September 11 was the anomaly. With all the increase in airline security, it would be like them to go back to the path of least resistance: large vehicle, great big bomb, soft target.”
“And it will look ordinary,” adds an Anti-Terrorism Division veteran. “It might come as an abandoned-car call. Or a run-of-the-mill burglary call-out. Unfortunately, it’s probably going to take a really, really experienced person to recognize it.” Which, of course, the average cop with eight hours of WMD is not.
Yet, after explosives, the next odds-on favorite is chemical. “Probably something simple like chlorine,” says Bill Murphy, “you know, stuff you can buy at your local pool-supply store.”
And how prepared is the LAPD for a chemical attack?
Not very, according to Miller. “At least we know what our response is to a big bomb. But if we had a chemical attack in a subway or a mall or a theater, have we practiced enough to know where the cracks in our response might be? Frankly, no. Our breadth of experience is almost nil. So, if we have a radio call, will the cops go running in and will the first wave go down? Will we lose radio communication? Will the second wave follow them and will we have a lot more victims? These are the training issues we have to address — and quickly.”
So how exactly does Module 6, WMD help address them?
“It’s a beginning,” says Miller. “Look: This whole counterterrorism thing is a new science of policing. And we’re still rolling with the punches.