In a rare move of aggression toward the media, the union representing L.A. police officers is confronting USC online newspaper Neon Tommy today for a weekend scoop it ran about the LAPD's recent double-homicide investigation near campus. In the piece, student journalist Catherine Green suggests that a more diligent probe into a South L.A. party shooting a couple months earlier might have put suspect Bryan Barnes behind bars before he could strike again -- allegedly killing international grad students Ying Wu and Ming Qu.
The Los Angeles Police Protective League often issues statements on political issues, budget cuts, etc. But we've never seen the LAPPL Board of Directors...
... take such a strong stance on police criticism in the media. In their roast of Green, they reduce her over-1,000-word story to "sensationalistic, innuendo-filled" headline bait.
More from the release:
"One would expect a news story questioning the integrity of hard working LAPD detectives to be backed by thorough reporting and years of experience investigating shootings and murders. But none of these things are evident in 'New Details In Shooting Case Linked To USC Murders Point To Lax Investigation,' by USC Neon Tommy journalist Catherine Green. If anything is 'lax,' it's her reporting.
We got a hold of Green today just as she was boarding a flight at Burbank's Bob Hope Airport. She said that she had seen the LAPPL's press release, but that it had given her no qualms about her original story.
The board "didn't point out any factual errors," said Green.
In response to the allegation that she "[failed] to consider the fact that a total of 262 people were shot in the Department's South Bureau in the time period examined," Green said:
"I have the utmost respect for the LAPD. They have probably the most difficult job in Los Angeles. ... They have an incredibly huge caseload. In both this piece and the piece we ran a couple weeks ago, I reported a fair amount of that."
She's right. Throughout her story, Deputy Chief Pat Gannon of the Southwest Division stresses the immensity of the LAPD's job down in L.A.'s gangier parts:
"Not every case gets solved really, really quickly," Gannon said. "I wish it wasn't that way. And I wish in hindsight that we had tied those first two cases together, and that we did have Barnes and Bolden in custody. Maybe if that had been the case, these two young people from USC would never have been killed. That's a burden -- for me and for the investigators to carry with us. But I just don't want anybody to think it's for lack of trying."
Thanks to Green's reporting, it becomes painfully clear that high-profile murders like those of Qu and Yu are investigated a hell of a lot more rigorously than nobody gang shootings in South L.A.
But the LAPPL's Board of Directors isn't impressed. They say Green based her conclusions on a single, possibly incomplete search warrant.
However, that issue is also addressed in the Neon Tommy story -- again, by way of interview with Deputy Chief Gannon.
The reports do not include what follow-up questions, if any, detectives may have asked the witness when he said he could identify the gunman on Facebook. Did [Detective Erbie Phillips], for example, ask him to call up Barnes' profile so he could see his name and other identifying information?
"You know, he may have," Gannon said. "It just may not be included in that information you have." He explained detectives also keep a chronological record of their work that often includes details beyond those in a warrant's report.
Green points out to LA Weekly that she spoke at length with Gannon, an LAPD source with whom she's formed a solid "professional relationship," in order to round out her piece.
"I'm still learning," she admits. "But I don't regret anything about the article."
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The only thing we might consider remotely slanted is Green's paraphrasing of Gannon, which seems much more extreme than any of his actual quotes. (We've contacted Gannon to get his take.) But public officials often downplay their opinions on controversial topics, and we've seen much higher-paid journalists take that leap to let the reader know what's really going on.
And speaking of higher-paid journalists: Neon Tommy has totally been blazing the trail on this case, while the rest of us -- including the Los Angeles Times -- scramble to catch up.
If the LAPPL wants to use Green's piece to lobby for restored funding to the LAPD's stretched-thin Southwest Division, so be it. But to attack what appears to be her very careful journalism, and with all the cattiness of a butt-hurt teenager, only makes the union look suspicious.
Makes you wonder: Why was a lone student journalist from USC able to rile up the kind of reaction that union heads usually reserve for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa? And might this have anything to do with the multimillion-dollar lawsuit currently aimed at USC?