Today, LAPD Chief Bill Bratton delivers a preliminary report on the May 1st incident in MacArthur Park to the Los Angeles City Council. Yesterday, he presented the report to the Police Commission. The chief blamed, in part, a breakdown in command and control that led to officers clubbing and firing rubber bullets at immigrant rights marchers and journalists. Commissioners were far from satisfied. KPCC's Frank Stoltze reports.
Frank Stoltze: The PowerPoint presentation was the LAPD's most thorough explanation to date of what happened in MacArthur Park. Police and news video show agitators throwing bottles at police. In police radio traffic from that day, an LAPD helicopter pilot identified what he calls "anarchist kids" on the ground.
Radio traffic from police helicopter: "It's just those, uh, like those anarchist kids that are actually going to be running eastbound. It looks like they are exciting everybody else. I'll keep an eye on those. So just stand by."
[Sound of man telling people to go into park in Spanish.]
Stoltze: An organizer asked marchers to move off the streets and into the park as tensions rose. Rocks and bottles continued to fly toward police.
Radio Traffic: "Thirty Charles, my understanding is the incident commander is making the entire park an unlawful assembly. He wants the entire park dispersed. Roger that."
Radio Traffic: "Verify. We do not have sufficient people to do it."
Stoltze: One officer radioed for more officers to clear the park. The operation began without that help, and officers continued to come under attack.
Radio Traffic: "We have these rocks. Guys are getting hit and they're getting hurt. Every time we stop, we're taking a beating over here. We need to keep moving to clear this out."
Radio Traffic: "OK. Let's get going, we're getting killed over here."
Stoltze: The presentation rankled Police Commission president John Mack. He said it focused too much on the attacks on police from up to 50 agitators among more than 6,000 marchers in MacArthur Park.
John Mack: There is unanimous agreement that the overwhelming majority of the participants in that event were peaceful law-abiding individuals. That didn't come across to me as strongly as it, personally, frankly should have.
Stoltze: Chief Bratton said command and control broke down May 1st. Commanders failed to isolate the troublemakers, and instead pushed them into the larger crowd. Bratton said they failed to issue a proper dispersal order – they delivered it, in English only, from a helicopter hovering above the park.
It's also unclear from radio communications whether police intended the order for the entire park or for just the small area in which agitators were attacking officers. Then, when riot police started moving through, there was little supervision.
Chief Bill Bratton: At this point in time, we can't explain it, that you have a two-star chief that's engaged in the middle of the activity and makes no effort to control it at all. Metro, in fairness to them, they receive minimal information on the event itself.
Stoltze: The Metropolitan Division is the elite unit that cleared the park. Bratton conceded they have been getting less crowd control training because he's used them to fight street crime.
Commissioner Anthony Pacheco harbored deeper concerns about the culture of the elite unit that deals with some of the city's toughest criminals.
Commissioner Anthony Pacheco: I want to make sure that Metro is not just isolated unto itself, that they are not just in the worst of the worst type of assignments, that they don't develop a certain demeanor that's very, very harsh.
Bratton: Everyone is calling for culture change in the Los Angeles Police Department. And the term that I've been using to identify what I think everybody is trying to change is one of isolation.
Stoltze: Chief Bratton said there is a culture of isolation at Metro – even within it.
Bratton: They have five different Christmas parties. They don't even go to Christmas parties together.
Stoltze: Bratton said he's considering rotating officers in Metro more often. But he added that experience is important too. One of the supervisors May 1st had only been on the job for four months.
None of this fully answers the question of why individual officers struck people who appeared to present no danger. Assistant Chief Jim McDonnell:
Assistant Chief Jim McDonnell: I can't explain it. I think we have to wait to be fair to everybody, wait for those officers to be interviewed, wait for Internal Affairs investigations are done. Because I'm not sure what was in the minds of those officers. I can't stand here and explain to you why those actions were taken.
Stoltze: Yesterday's report is only preliminary. The final version won't be out for at least a couple of months. Three other inquires are under way, including one by the LAPD's Inspector General and the FBI