Wednesday, June 24th, 2009 – Today, I watched a low level LAPD officer throw two bars and one star under a bus. Specifically, Officer Cho’s prejudiced police work at the scene of the Hummer Hit N Run left Captain Allen (two bars) and freshly minted Commander Mike Williams (one star) flapping in the breeze in front of political heavy weights at the Transportation Committee.
Captain Allen, under pressure from Councilman Rosendahl, asserted that there were plates on the ’07 Hummer, in contrast to the above photo from the scene. Allen and Williams’ report also revealed that the City Attorney’s office has decided not to prosecute the motorist, and is considering prosecuting the cyclists on vandalism charges.
After cyclists countered LAPD’s report in almost every facet, Councilman Rosendahl grilled Williams. When Williams repeatedly said he did not know if the vehicle had plates, Allen stepped in from the audience to answer the question. Allen asserted that, based on the report, the vehicle must have had plates. Later, Matt Simmons, whose bike was run over by the Hummer, speculated that the information had been retrieved from a VIN number. Simmons went on to say that the lack of plates was what caused cyclists to blockade the Hummer, and that there were photographs documenting that.
Was Allen lying about the plates? My first reaction was “yes”. Their report was full of audacious spin. They said that the Hummer driver left the scene because he was afraid of the cyclists, when every cyclist witness I have spoken with has explained how one woman leaned out of the car and yelled victoriously “no plates!”, and another passenger boasted that he was carrying a gun. They reported that the Hummer drove away from the scene, inadvertently hitting bikes, but then stopped and waited for the police. This directly contradicts what cyclists reported – that they were pulled over while fleeing. When pressed about it, Allen and Williams were unable to square their version with the fact that the motorist did not call the police. Allen and Williams failed to do the basic credibility check and ask – who has the incentive to avoid a collision? A cyclist has every incentive to avoid a collision, whereas a motorist has little. Had they done that, the whole report would have looked suspect. The apparent lack of critical thinking smelled like deception to me.
After Simmons’ comments, we all stepped out into the hall to discuss the incident and the photos. I dug out the photos on my iPhone, and Williams alternated between listening intently to Simmons recall the incident, and peaking over at my iPhone to see if the photo had fully loaded. That’s not the behavior of someone who is interested in deceiving you, but rather the behavior of someone trying to better understand a situation.
Is it possible that a Commander and a Captain have been hoodwinked by a prejudiced officer? I think that it is. More and more as I attend these hearings I get the sense that the officers are dispatched to City Hall to report on incidents they have no prior knowledge of. It seems to be LAPD policy that these officers defend LAPD’s actions at any cost, sacrificing their personal integrity for that of the LAPD, so that LAPD can remain independent. In essence, they’re fed to the wolves.
Many of us saw Deputy Chief Albanese’s vitriolic report on the Hummer Hit N Run in Council in late May. At the time I just chalked it up to hatred. The Thompson family has a wary attitude toward law enforcement, and for good reason. When officers have motivation to lie, it is my reflex to assume they will. Perhaps, I was a victim of my own prejudice. Consider this: Albanese has a reputation for being aggressive, abrasive, and unapologetic – a kind of Alex Thompson of the LAPD. Where I saw prejudice, perhaps there was only a police officer defending his department based on what he read in the report – albeit in his acidic style.
In other words, maybe Cho threw Deputy Chief Albanese (two stars) under the bus too. A bad report by Cho and a bad LAPD policy put Albanese at odds with Hahn, whose district makes up much of his command area. Just as I was a victim of my own prejudice, perhaps so is LAPD. Cho’s superior officers failed to question whether his report is fair or accurate. In doing so, they accepted Cho’s anti-cyclist prejudice as their own, and reaped embarrassment in the public eye.
We condemn prejudice for the unjust personal suffering and pain that it causes, but we forget that prejudice often causes dysfunction within organizations. Where prejudice is present, players cannot make rational decisions, and that leads to truck loads of dysfunction – in this case the stalwart defense of indefensibly bad policing.
Many motorists out there harbor a disabling prejudice against cyclists, and some of them are in LAPD. A consciousness within LAPD that some prejudiced officers badly mishandle cycling incidents could go a long way toward sparing command staff further embarrassment. If such a consciousness existed, officers summoned to report on such incidents would be less strident to defend the indefensible, and more inclined to take a second look at the details.
Instead, LAPD is getting pwned by Officer Cho’s prejudice against cyclists. As a result of his report, we’ve now seen three high level officers at odds with council. Distrust between LAPD and cyclists has been aggravated, and is perched at an all time high.