Last week, hundreds of protesters in St. Paul were arrested outside the Republican National Convention by helmeted police officers wearing black uniforms and full body armor reminiscent of scenes from the 1987 movie, RoboCop featuring: “Part man. Part machine. All Cop. The future of law enforcement.”
In an operation supervised by federal agents, informants were recruited and paid to infiltrate media and protest groups. Preemptive search warrants were served on their gathering places by masked officers in riot gear armed with assault rifles, and video cameras, computers, journals and political pamphlets were seized. Officers marching in formations and shouting military chants used pepper spray, rubber bullets, concussion grenades, smoke bombs and excessive force against predominately peaceful demonstrators. Specifically targeted, independent and credentialed journalists covering the protests were arrested, violently detained and charged with felony rioting.
The present encroachment by the federal government into matters of local law enforcement results in part from powers seized by President Bush following 9-11. He recently reaffirmed: “Consistent with ... the National Emergencies Act ..., I am continuing for 1 year the national emergency I declared on September 14, 2001, ... with respect to ... the continuing and immediate threat of further attacks on the United States. Because the terrorist threat continues, the national emergency ... and the powers and authorities adopted to deal with that emergency, must continue in effect beyond September 14, 2008.”
President Bush has appointed himself to ensure our “continuity of government”; however, the actual limits on his “powers and authorities” remain secret, even from Congress. Any “Enduring Constitutional Government” will be run by the president alone, and any “cooperative” role played by Congress or the Supreme Court will be at his pleasure as a “matter of comity.”
Watching these events unfold, and reflecting back upon the experiences and observations of a 45-year career in America’s justice system, I have concluded that while law enforcement may have improved as a profession, police officers have become less conscious of who it is they are sworn to protect and to serve.
In the summer of 1968, I transferred to the Los Angeles Police Department after having worked for five years as a police officer at a small department in San Diego County. Many of us at the time considered ourselves to be a “new breed” of police officers dedicated to developing law enforcement into a true profession.
I had served as president of the San Diego County Chapter of the statewide police organization responsible for the Law Enforcement Code of Ethics and for California becoming the first state to adopt a Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) program. The 1967 President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice had just recommended that all states establish POST Commissions.
Race-related riots were exploding in many cities throughout the Sixties, with major conflicts occurring in New York City, Rochester, Jersey City, Paterson, Elizabeth, Chicago and Philadelphia in 1964, the Watts Riot in 1965, Cleveland, San Francisco, and Atlanta in 1966, and Boston, Tampa, Buffalo, Memphis, Newark, Plainfield, Detroit and Milwaukee in 1967.
Although there had been no riots in San Diego County, it was a time of widespread discontent about the Vietnam War, and there had been a violent clash in June 1967 between LAPD officers and 10,000 antiwar protestors outside the Century Plaza Hotel where President Johnson was attending a fund-raising dinner.
With a large military presence in the County, our administrators thought it prudent to get prepared. Many of us received training provided by the FBI in which we were issued long batons and taught to maintain wedge formations and skirmish lines to force protestors and rioters to disburse.
Other than for helmets, we received no protective gear and our faces were uncovered. We were in gabardine uniforms, with ties, badges and name plates. Being one of the taller officers, I often found myself at the point.
Following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4, 1968, riots immediately erupted all over the country. At least 125 cities suffered violence and destruction and more than 56,000 federal and National Guard troops were mobilized in 18 states and 36 cities. The worst riots were in Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Chicago, Boston, Detroit, Kansas City and Newark. In Chicago, Mayor Daley ordered the police, who had received no civil disorder training, to shoot to kill. More than 700 fires raged in Washington, D.C. and the White House was turned into a “fortress.”
After graduating from the Los Angeles Police Academy and completing my one-year probation, I commenced evening law school. During the day and for the next two years, I researched and wrote the Department’s Policy Manual establishing the principles and philosophy governing policing in the city, including the meaning of “To Protect and To Serve.” Policies were established for the use of force, including firearms, and the Department’s response to riots.
During “unusual occurrences,” I was also assigned to temporarily staff the Emergency Control Center where I served as the Situation Report Officer compiling all information and intelligence into hourly and daily reports for commanding officers and political leaders. Major events included the all-day shootout on December 8, 1969 between the LAPD and barricaded Black Panthers on South Central Avenue and the East LA riots in August and September 1970, during which Times columnist Rubén Salazar was killed by sheriff deputies and a bomb was exploded in the federal building next door to the LA police headquarters.
There were many other less publicized acts of violence in LA during the late Sixties and early Seventies: In 1968, the employment office at Cal State Northridge was firebombed because of defense contracts; a shrapnel bomb exploded at the Hollywood Selective Service office; five heavy-duty Army trucks were dynamited in Van Nuys; and students occupied the administration building at Cal State Northridge and held the president and other administrators at knife point for four hours. The following year, a pipe bomb exploded at a Navy and Marine Corps Training Center in Compton and an airplane dropped an incendiary device outside a military installation. In 1970, two Selective Service offices sustained heavy damage during bombings; two men were arrested as they attempted to firebomb the National Guard armory in San Pedro; and an explosion and fire caused $10,000 damage at UCLA’s ROTC facility.