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Edgar Allen Poe-lice

So there I was, slumbering deeply thanks to a Vicodin, when there came a tapping, as of someone gently rapping, or rather, as of someone smashing, smashing down my apartment door. It was 5:30 a.m. “What’s that?” my wife asked, sitting up in bed. “’Tis the LAPD,” I muttered sleepily, “banging on our apartment door — only this, and nothing more.”

It was, you see, the second night in a row that an LAPD squad car had been summoned to our apartment. Our telephone, for some twisted Kafkaesque reason best known to itself, had adopted the curious habit of dialing 911 shortly before dawn. It’s amazing what technology can do these days. It’s amazing what technology will do these days — unbidden.

The previous night it had been my wife who’d woken up first and gone to the door — to find three police officers standing on the porch. Two male, one female. The female seemed to be the one in charge. When my wife explained that no one in the apartment had called 911 — that, in fact, everyone had been fast asleep — the female police officer said that she and one of her partners would have to come in the apartment and search it anyway. Which is why two minutes later I woke to find a not unattractive policewoman standing in our bedroom, flashlight in hand. It provided, I have to admit, a certain erotic frisson.

No doubt that is why on the second night it was I who answered the door. Two male police officers were standing outside. It was pouring rain. “We received an emergency call from this address,” one officer said. Yeah, yeah. I explained the previous night’s drama, and asked whether the officers could skip the search rather than rousting my wife, who had gone back to sleep. Surprisingly, the LAPD officers said yes. Forced to stay up all night in the rainy city, they were probably disinclined to underestimate the value of a good snooze. At any rate, after asking to see some ID, they went on their way.

Contacted telephonically, the repair department of Pacific Bell was unable to clear up the mystery of our panic-stricken phone. There had been the rain, of course, and some consequent damage to the lines. The most likely explanation, I was told by a man who identified himself only as “Bob,” was that someone else’s phone line had crossed with ours. In other words, when someone down the street dialed 911 or a number containing 911 — say, 555-9114 — the numbers skipped to our line and from there went directly to the police, where they were automatically traced to our address.

Down at the local police station, one officer — who’d been on the force for 18 years — said he had heard of telephones mysteriously dialing 911 “a few times,” but emphasized that it was rare. Perhaps the officer in question doesn’t get out much. A few days later I encountered officers Helper and Sanchez of the Wilshire Patrol Division on my block at 1:30 a.m. I was out walking a neighbor’s dog. Officer Helper shone a flashlight in my face. Taking this as a signal that he was hoping to strike up a conversation, I asked him if he had heard of telephones dialing 911 in the middle of the night. Officer Helper had. In fact, it was his estimate that half the 911 calls he and his partner answered were generated by errant fax machines or malfunctioning phone lines; the other half, he said, came from malfunctioning burglar alarms. I guess crime really has gone down.

Since officers Helper & Sanchez were in the midst of answering a 911 call when I spoke to them — not that they seemed to be in much of a hurry — I hung around to see which it would be: malfunctioning fax machine or malfunctioning burglar alarm? I thought about putting money on the former, but the dog wasn’t interested. Too bad for the dog: It was the burglar alarm.

—Brendan Bernhard

WHO’S COUNTING?

First there was “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” Now the Clinton administration is preparing to unveil its “Don’t ask, don’t count” policy for the upcoming census. That’s right, in the hopes of avoiding another undercount of Latinos, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) says it will scale back some of its immigration sweeps during the 2000 census count. The plan was hatched after immigrant rights activists warned that another huge miscount could occur if the INS continued sweeps and deportations during the census count. And given the recent LAPD corruption scandal — in which INS officials routinely assisted the Rampart Division in their deportation efforts — it isn’t difficult to imagine why immigrants might be just a little fearful of government employees.

The only problem with the new plan, however, is how the agency plans to carry it out. While the exact guidelines aren’t expected to be released until later this month, an INS spokesman was quick to point out they won’t stop raids and deportations. “We’ve said we will work with the census bureau to ensure our activities won’t impede the collection of information,” said Russ Bergeron, at the INS Washington, D.C., headquarters. What does Bergeron have in mind? Say, for example, you have a census worker walking through downtown Los Angeles’ heavily immigrant garment district; the INS will stay out of that area until the worker has completed his route. The next day, however, the INS could come in and conduct a sweep. Immigrants in surrounding neighborhoods are sure to hear about the raid — and disappear when government workers from the census come to call.

And that has immigrant groups concerned. They fear the INS, which is reeling from a spate of botched cases, espionage accusations against top-level employees and assorted other embarrassing incidents, will blow it again. And who can blame them? The agency has a poor track record. Less than a year after INS Commissioner Doris Meissner traveled to Mexico to assure government officials there that the agency wouldn’t embark on mass roundups, INS agents began “Operation Buttonhole” raids in L.A.’s garment district. Hundreds of undocumented workers were arrested and deported. And that’s not even counting the undocumenteds improperly fingered by Rampart cops, with the INS’s full cooperation.

—Sandra Hernandez

DARYL GATES’ OUTRAGE METER

Recent revelations that Rampart Division officers went hunting for immigrants to deport apparently rocked at least one former cop’s world. Appearing last week on CNBC’s Geraldo Live, former LAPD Police Chief Daryl Gates was shocked to hear that police officers were abusing their authority. When asked about the latest allegations that the boys in blue like to play INS agent, Gates declared baldly, “Well, it’s a viola — violation of my policy. I — that’s a federal crime.”

“Clearly,” Rivera replied.

“ . . . Now, that’s probably the worst thing those guys did,” Gates continued.

“Oh, oh, oh. Editorial comment there, but go ahead. Go ahead. Go,” Rivera egged him on.

Gates was referring to police violating his Special Order 40, a 1979 directive barring officers from stopping people and asking them about their immigration status. Police and activists have long agreed the ordinance is essential to ensuring that immigrants step forward and report crimes.

We at OffBeat were as shocked as Gates. After all, it isn’t every day that the tough-talking former top cop says the LAPD has gone too far in its efforts to keep our streets crime-free. While we aren’t ones to play down police using Latinos’ immigration status to get rid of witnesses and intimidate individuals, we wonder why Gates wasn’t even more offended by some of the other admissions of wrongdoing by former Rampart Officer Rafael Perez: Like stealing eight pounds of cocaine. Or routinely framing gang members. Or shooting an unarmed Javier Francisco Ovando and planting a gun on him so he could be charged with shooting at them. Ovando, who was left permanently paralyzed, got a 23-year prison term. Last week, a tearful Perez got five years, and could be out in as little as 16 months. Now that’s what we call a real shocker.

—Sandra Hernandez


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