Update: Did Chief Beck put his finger on the scale? -- His comments on the mistaken shooting in Torrance risk putting public relations before public accountability.
Whenever there is an officer-involved shooting, we are reflexively asked to withhold judgment until all the evidence comes out. So it is somewhat disconcerting for LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, in providing the first detailed account of the shooting of Margie Carranza and Emma Hernandez in Torrance, to tell the Times in an interview that they were the victims of "a tragic misinterpretation" by officers working under "incredible tension."
We all know the officers made a mistake, or a series of them as the manhunt for Christopher Jordan Dorner unfolded Thursday, but the question is whether their behavior was excusable or not, and whether additional training or even punishment is warranted for the officers, and whether new or better policies and training are needed for all officers.
When Beck says that it's not difficult to imagine how officers who were already on edge could make the mistake these officers did, even if he is not commenting directly on this shooting, he risks, suggesting that he has prejudged their behavior as excusable, a suggestion that is particularly troubling for those who live in communities where officer-involved shootings happen regularly.
The public has a right to a full and impartial investigation and an accounting of what happened before judgment is rendered. That's a basic, first principle, and Beck should do nothing to suggest any deviation from it.
We agree with the Op-Ed author Hector Villagra, Chief Beck should have withheld comment. But Beck apparently wants to immitate former police chief Bratton and wind up with cushy consulting contracts and be a player on a larger stage. Of course, he was playing politics and placing a spin on the situation, but I really wonder if it was on behalf of the LAPD or his own political ambitions?
Original Blog Post ...
We are told that the LAPD has the finest training and the best discipline. And yet it all evaporated as a truck rolled down the street delivering papers. What went wrong and why?
Details emerge in LAPD's mistaken shooting of newspaper carriers
The officers' radio crackled with an urgent warning: He could be coming your way. It was around 5 a.m. in Torrance on Thursday and police from nearby El Segundo had seen a pickup truck exit a freeway and head in the general direction of the Redbeam Avenue residence of a high-ranking Los Angeles police official, which was being guarded by a group of LAPD officers.
Police were on the lookout for Christopher Jordan Dorner, a disgruntled ex-cop suspected of hunting down members of the LAPD and their families in a twisted campaign of revenge. The radio call indicated that the truck matched the description of Dorner's gray Nissan Titan.
A few minutes later, a truck slowly rolled down the quiet residential street.
As the vehicle approached the house, officers opened fire, unloading a barrage of bullets into the back of the truck. When the shooting stopped, they quickly realized their mistake. The truck was not a Nissan Titan, but a Toyota Tacoma. The color wasn't gray, but aqua blue. And it wasn't Dorner inside the truck, but a woman and her mother delivering copies of the Los Angeles Times.
This is absolutely unacceptable, police firing on unarmed citizens without any indication of a threat! Bad leadership. Bad police work. Bad weapon discipline. Surely someone would have noticed the make, model and color of the vehicle was wrong. Surely someone could have used a bullhorn to halt the vehicle and execute a “felony stop?” But, they simply opened fire.
In an interview with The Times on Friday, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck outlined the most detailed account yet of how the shooting unfolded. Margie Carranza, 47, and her mother, Emma Hernandez, 71, were the victims of "a tragic misinterpretation" by officers working under "incredible tension," he said. Just hours before, Dorner allegedly shot three police officers, one fatally. And, in an online posting authorities attributed to him, Dorner threatened to kill more police and seemed to take responsibility for the slaying over the weekend of the daughter of a retired LAPD captain and her fiancé.
The police want military-style arms and paramilitary tactics and discipline – but it all falls apart because they have little training in combat situations. These people would be worthless in an urban combat scenario posed by a riot. More a danger to civilians and themselves than the actual threat.
Beck and others stressed that the investigation into the shooting is in its infancy. They declined to say how many officers were involved, what kind of weapons they used, how many bullets were fired and, perhaps most important, what kind of verbal warnings — if any — were given to the women before the shooting began.
Law enforcement sources told The Times that at least seven officers opened fire. On Friday, the street was pockmarked with bullet holes in cars, trees, garage doors and roofs. Residents said they wanted to know what happened.
"How do you mistake two Hispanic women, one who is 71, for a large black male?" said Richard Goo, 62, who counted five bullet holes in the entryway to his house.
Glen T. Jonas, the attorney representing the women, said the police officers gave "no commands, no instructions and no opportunity to surrender" before opening fire. He described a terrifying encounter in which the pair were in the early part of their delivery route through several South Bay communities. Hernandez was in the back seat handing papers to her daughter, who was driving. Carranza would briefly slow the truck to throw papers on driveways and front walks. Hernandez was shot twice in her back and is expected to recover. Her daughter escaped with only minor wounds from broken glass.
How can the politically correct Police Chief give an account of the incident and still waffle about the details. In any event this is another million dollar mess that the taxpayers will be asked to foot.
Listen to Beck talk about gun control and gun regulation …
Here is the hypocrite who wants to disarm a woman whose violent spouse has sworn to kill her – claiming they can do nothing until the spouse acts -- but is willing to provide a police official named in a rogue cop’s manifesto a cadre of police officers as a protective detail.
Though Beck said he does not doubt the women did not hear any verbal commands, he emphasized that it was still possible the officers did attempt to stop the vehicle before opening fire. And, while not commenting specifically on this shooting, Beck said it was not difficult to imagine how officers who were already on edge could make the mistake these officers did. "As an officer, you look for cues. You know how someone drives normally and then you see someone coming at you slowly, driving in the middle of the street, stopping and starting. That can be misinterpreted," he said.
Beck needs to resign. These officers appeared to show little or no discipline which is necessary in a crisis. And it happened on his watch.
Beck said he had not yet received a detailed briefing, which typically occurs a few days after officer-involved shootings to give investigators time to collect evidence and put together the basic summary of what happened. But he did say that the gunfire occurred in two bursts: The first came from an officer positioned down the block from the LAPD official's residence, and the second when Carranza accelerated away from the gunfire and toward other officers.
Again, Beck needs to resign. One, for shooting his mouth off before he has all of the facts. And, two for attempting to justify the officer’s actions with supposition.
After the investigation is completed, Beck and an oversight board will decide if officers were justified in the shooting or made mistakes that warrant either punishment or training. Jonas estimated that the officers fired between 20 and 30 rounds. Photographs of the back of the truck showed at least two dozen bullet holes. Neighbors, however, suggested there were more shots fired.
These officers need to be re-trained as they cannot be trusted with the safety of residents surrounding an active crime activity. There are any number of returning soldiers who have seen active combat, are used to following orders and probably will have an easier time transitioning into becoming police officers, having faced continuous life-threatening situations, than trying to train police officers in combat discipline with inadequate simulations.
And, the on-site command staff needs to be released for not maintaining proper police protocols involving threat assessment and fire control. Either someone gave a firing command or one person started firing and the others joined in. If a command was given, the officer should be released. If one officer opened up without a credible threat to his life, he needs to be released. The public must be reassured that our police are well-trained and maintain discipline at all times, and especially when facing threats.
Bottom line …
There are thousands of great police officers out there, facing danger each and every day as the patrol streets rife with the potential for gang violence. One must wonder if the officers were just standing around in the open or were they prudently operating from positions of cover? If the wanted subject was targeting this particular high police official, he probably would have noticed the counter-force and left the area – that is unless he was suicidal.
I hate to say anything negative about the hard-working men and women of the LAPD, but we must wonder what is it that we are paying great sums of money for. Chief Beck has shot off his mouth about gun control – with a number of politically correct statements, but when it comes to civilians protecting their own lives, he wants to disarm them. When it comes to protecting the life of a police official, all of a sudden the person is surrounded with a cadre of officers.
Reference Links …
"The object in life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane." -- Marcus Aurelius