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
|Photo by Devin Ascher|
You don’t have to be a Fallujan to feel uncomfortable watching helicopter gunships descend on your city amid deafening reports of live automatic weapons fire and rising plumes of flash-bang grenade smoke. Unless, like the crowd that gathered on bleachers at a Staples Center parking lot last week to watch a tactics demonstration by the Los Angeles Police and Sheriff’s departments, you’re in law enforcement.
"Beautiful," said Abdallah Mssika of the Tanzania Police Force, squinting as a couple of helicopter-borne snipers inflicted justice on a pair of balaclava-clad terrorists standing on a nearby roof. As the light poles wagged in the rotors’ wake and the crowd shielded its eyes from flying debris, the terrorists (mannequins, actually) offered scant resistance. A few shots rang out, and then they gave a slow, Oscar-worthy descent to the ground. Like many of the 14,000 delegates attending the annual conference of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) last weekend, Mssika was sickened with envy. "We are not nearly so well-equipped," he said, shaking his head.
"The threat has been reduced," assured deputy chief of police Mike Hillman through his microphone. The thousand-strong crowd applauded as the helicopters beat their harpylike retreat, then surged forward to assess the damage, meet the heroes and climb inside the armored vehicles and helicopters. But a pair of Swedish gentleman in suits hung back, seemingly repulsed.
"In Sweden, it’s too big, too military," said Willis Alberg, a police superintendent in his native country, offering his preferred approach to a hostage crisis. "We will make the criminal tired and hungry, and then we start to negotiate."
But the Swedes were in the minority. The crowd again cheered when LAPD Chief William Bratton took the mike: "We hope you’ve gotten some sense as to why Sheriff Baca and I think we have the two best jobs in the world," Bratton said.
The convention that culminated in this display of special effects and wonder had begun, appropriately enough, with a group tour of Universal Studios. Apparently, a few days in Los Angeles can leave even the most stalwart enforcer of the law starstruck. "It’s the closest I’ll ever come to being a movie star," said a beaming John Ashcroft as the newly resigned attorney general addressed the convention in the proud and slightly weepy tones of a Little League coach at season’s end. Still, there was some serious discussion going on in such seminars as "Keeping Good People Good," "Preparing for the Use of Force During a Demonstration" and "When the Media Is Unfair." Ashcroft himself weighed in on the last topic: "I was amazed when The New York Timesran a headline last week that said, ‘Despite Drop in Crime, an Increase in Inmates.’ Well, duh!"
In a seminar billed on the IACP Web site as "Policing in an Emergency [sic] Democracy: Post-Hussein Iraq," Iraq police consultant and Order of the British Empire member Douglas Brand offered a sobering reminder that not all of the convention attendees’ colleagues were having so much fun. Following a moment of silence for the fallen, and 30 minutes of candid criticism of the impossible demands placed by coalition governments on the Iraqi police and their foreign trainers, Brand projected a slide photo of a donkey. The animal, he said, had towed a cart used in an insurgent’s rocket attack on Baghdad’s International Zone: "A colleague of mine said, ‘At least we found one of the weapons of ass destruction.’"
The mood was considerably lighter on the exhibition floor among the cool toys: disco-worthy displays of sirens, potato-gun-like Less Lethal Launchers, trading cards for cops and their bomb-sniffing dogs ("Vannah helps protect American one sniff at a time"), garishly color-coded handcuffs (yellow for felon, orange for recidivists, red for Hannibal Lecter), and a best-uniform contest. My favorite exhibit was a Northrop-Grumman-manufactured satellite-map touch-table operated by waving one’s hands over it, not unlike the holographic display used by Tom Cruise in Minority Report. One could route parades, contain riots and assess the aftermath of nuclear explosions. The $250,000 price might seem steep, but salesman Mark Whitman saw a new willingness to pay it. "Oddly," he reported, "we haven’t had much sticker shock."
The weirdest pigeon at the Pageant of Pigeons looked just like a regular pigeon but had, stuck to its back, a swath of curly feathers — curly like carrot rosettes or frisée lettuce or Diana Ross’ hair. It has taken thousands upon thousands of generations of selective breeding to achieve this pigeon. It would not survive in the rough-and-tumble world of actual nature. Though here, tonight, among thousands upon thousands of his fancy brethren at the Orange Show Fairgrounds in San Bernardino, he was getting along quite well.
It was late on the night before the big opening day of the Pageant of Pigeons, and people closely affiliated with the show, the judges, the breeders and the wives of breeders, were setting up, checking cages or generally fussing with their birds. The first thing you noticed (aside from the pigeons) was a layered crrooo-crrooo-crrooo-crrooo sound like deep white noise. It was the quality of sound that would either put you into an immediate state of profound relaxation or drive you mad. I found it relaxing. I wandered up and down the rows of Strawberry balds, Opal laces and Red mottles soaking up bits of conversation.