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El Camino High Police Shooting: Did LAPD Overreact? And Did Gardena High Shooting Receive Equal Attention?

A composite of the El Camino cop shooter
A composite of the El Camino cop shooter
Los Angeles Police Department

Update: "LAPD Chief Says Jeffrey Stenroos, L.A. School Officer 'Shot in Chest' at El Camino High, Was Lying."

The vast majority of media and community reaction to Wednesday's police shooting at El Camino High -- an unexpected jolt of violence in the affluent suburb of Woodland Hills -- has focused on the seven-square-mile search perimeter and extensive lockdowns at nine LAUSD campuses.

Critics speculate that the closed-off streets, sweeping lockdowns and hundreds of emergency responders and investigators roaming the area were vast overkill in response to the crime.

Officer Jeffrey Stenroos, of the Los Angeles School Police Department, was shot in the chest by a suspected thief he was pursuing in the El Camino High parking lot, but was spared from critical injury by his bulletproof vest.

Students at El Camino High and surrounding schools were shut inside for up to six hours, as officers allegedly ran through classrooms with guns in hand and many kids went without food or access to bathrooms.

Even Superintendent Ramon Cortines used the word "overreaction" in an LA Daily News followup to the Valley chaos:

"We need to be very careful about creating a sense of chaos," Cortines said. "We take all of this serious but don't want overreaction. Calmness is what we need in situations like these."

But could the LAPD and media frenzy have been more a byproduct of heightened school-shooting awareness after the Gardena High shooting the day before, in which a 17-year-old "accidentally" discharged a gun he'd brought to school in his backpack? And did that cause Gardena, where one girl is still in the hospital with a critical gunshot wound to the head, to sink on the radar?

At a press conference yesterday, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck put emphasis on the fact that El Camino's gunfire was directed at a police officer: "This guy had shown total disregard for public safety and the community by shooting an armed police officer who was doing his job," he said.

Assistant Police Chief Earl Paysinger agreed, adding: "We would be irresponsible in a fresh and unfolding tactical situation to expose young people to the threat of an armed gunman who has already demonstrated his intention to commit violence."

And this morning, the L.A. City Council is putting a pretty penny toward his capture:

At Friday's Los Angeles City Council Meeting, Concilman Dennis P. Zine will introduce a motion asking for a $75,000 reward to be offered in the case of the shooting of Los Angeles School Police Officer Jeffrey Stenroos for persons to come forward with information leading to the identification, apprehension and conviction of the person or persons responsible for this shooting. The Los Angeles School Police Association will also contribute an additional $5,000 to bring the total reward to $80,000.

But on the south side of the city, the Los Angeles Times reported yesterday that Gardena parents were feeling anything but stifled by police.

Judith McKinney, whose 17-year-old daughter attends the school, said after the meeting that she was irritated by school officials complimenting themselves on their reaction to the shooting and unsatisfied with what she thought were vague responses about improving security. ...

Incoming L.A. Unified Supt. John Deasy said that, indeed, the high school had failed to do its job in enforcing a 1993 district policy that called for daily random weapon searches with portable metal detectors. Deasy said the district would be interviewing staff responsible to determine why the policy was not being followed and would assess all high schools' compliance with the policy.

The principal of Gardena High, Rudy Mendoza, would not comment but posted a letter on the school's website, saying the campus would increase security for an "indefinite period of time" and make crisis and intervention counselors available to students.

According to the Daily Breeze, despite the fact that "police were still searching for the backpack," LAUSD officials "emphasized that conditions at Gardena High were returning to normal Wednesday, though many students were subject to weapons searches with hand-held metal detectors before classes began."

Meanwhile, at El Camino High, where the gunman (white, gray hair, mid-40s) was last seen fleeing eastward, away from campus, police presence was still on high Thursday. Multiple newspapers reported heightened police presence and tight security on Thursday, as "school district police and city officers" patrolled all nine campuses.

Let's just say too few cops in the Valley wasn't anyone's complaint. Is that because the suspect's still on the loose? Does he remain a threat to school kids?

El Camino is a California Distinguished School, and has won the National Academic Decathalon a record-setting six times. Gardena has an extremely low Academic Performance Index score of 586, compared to El Camino's 798.

El Camino is 53 percent white. Gardena is 60 percent Latino.

LAUSD spokesman Robert Alaniz says to the Associated Press: "Violence can happen anywhere. Crime doesn't have a ZIP code."

But does police attention? Tell us what you think.

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