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Power to the Cops

The watchdog commission that oversees the LAPD conducted a formal review Tuesday of the security operations surrounding the Democratic National Convention, and then gave the department an ovation.

Not a word of criticism was offered for police actions over the course of four days of street demonstrations that provoked 200 arrests, a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union and a commentary by the mayor of Philadelphia terming the LAPD’s conduct ”completely irrational and perplexing.“

To the members of the L.A. Police Commission, it all made sense. ”Everybody felt a sense of exhilaration,“ Commissioner Dean Hansell said.

”You rose to the occasion,“ Commissioner Raquelle de la Rocha told an assembly of top LAPD commanders.

Arriving late to the hearing but not to be outdone, Commissioner Warren Jackson offered a heartfelt ”Thank you to the men and women who put a great face on the city, who worked to preserve the peace and preserve the Constitution.“

The cops could have wrapped up their presentation by standing and taking bows, but they had apparently prepared for a somewhat tougher review, so they went ahead and presented their version of the more controversial police actions at the convention.

Commander Mark Leap, the slight, tight-lipped officer who supervised the LAPD street cops for the convention, described in detail the primary police action of the week -- the sweep of the sanctioned protest area following Monday night‘s Rage Against the Machine concert.

Leap estimated the crowd at 10,000 -- about 3,000 more than published estimates -- but conceded that it was ”a small group of people“ who started the altercation. They were, Leap explained, ”bent on violence, bent on destruction, bent on confrontation with police officers.“

The troublemakers ”hurled missiles“ -- rocks, trash, chunks of concrete -- ”things that would be considered deadly weapons,“ Leap said. In addition, ”People scaling the fence created a security risk for the convention itself.“

Deputy Chief David J. Gascon added his own appraisal that the court-ordered demonstration zone -- police officials first sought to close the entire area to the public -- was ”far too close“ to the convention itself. Rocks thrown by demonstrators actually struck the Staples Center itself, Gascon said, and then he pointed to a photograph of the trash-strewn strip between the fence and the arena: ”It almost looks like the surface of the moon.“

That was enough for police commanders to call an end to the concert -- second-act group Ozomatli had just taken the stage -- and to put the department’s riot troops into motion. ”For 20 minutes, we virtually pleaded“ with the demonstrators and Rage fans to leave the area, Leap explained. ”We gave clear and concise directions on which way we wanted them to leave.“

This account is at odds with the version that numerous demonstrators and observers have recounted -- that the police gave hasty and confusing commands, that exit routes were blocked by police, and that officers moved in despite efforts by most in the crowd to comply with the orders -- but no members of the Police Commission interjected to raise issues or ask questions. Leap continued with his narration.

The department‘s mounted unit, its ”mobile strike teams“ of motorcycle cops, and its Mobile Field Force, a specially trained crowd-control unit, were all turned loose to clear the remnants of the concert crowd, estimated by Leap at roughly 500 people. Then, he explained, ”It was necessary for us to fire non-lethal munitions into the crowd.“

Here again, commissioners might have asked just why those munitions were necessary, or even why a sweep was necessary, considering most of the crowd had gone home. No queries were made, however, and Leap concluded, ”I can term the deployment a success.“

deputy chief Maurice Moore, who was on the street much of the week and supervised crowd control from there, then counted off other department highlights. Key to the accounting: There were no injuries to officers or property damage to the city. Moore also listed the primary arrests -- 71 bicyclists, 37 anti-LAPD protesters arrested peacefully at Rampart Station, and 45 ”anarchists“ nabbed for conspiracy to trash a McDonald’s on Seventh Street.

Chief Bernard Parks sat mute through the presentation, his back stiff, his eyes glazed, but as the presentation drew to a close he pressed Moore to say more about the anarchists and their schemes. This was his trump card, and he wanted to make sure it got played, even if the commission was too docile to press for it.

Moore obliged: ”They had sling shots, and bottles of fecal matter mixed with urine, to throw on officers.“ There was a homemade smoke bomb discovered in a backpack, and, displayed in a department photo under the heading ”incendiary devices,“ several small firecrackers, two highway flares and a Bic lighter. Moore made the most of the confiscated accouterments. ”They have every bit of equipment, if you will, to create anarchy, to create confusion,“ he said.

In addition, Moore said, several group leaders were communicating by radio on a frequency the LAPD could monitor. This was a source of intelligence, but also of the highest compliment earned by the department -- certainly more stirring than the platitudes offered by the commission. Moore said the potential troublemakers were overheard complaining about the constant police presence: ”We could hear them talking. They said, ‘This is not Seattle. They [the police] are on us too tight. They’re on us all the time.‘“