- The Washington Times - Friday, August 11, 2000

LOS ANGELES The shadow of Rodney King hangs over the Los Angeles Police Department as it prepares to cope with thousands of demonstrators during next week's Democratic National Convention.
So does the fiasco of the O.J. Simpson murder trial and the ongoing Rampart Division corruption scandal, which has now seen 97 felony convictions overturned because of perjury and falsified or planted evidence.
But police see the upcoming convention as a potential seminal moment, a time when a department in national disgrace can begin lifting itself back toward the status it enjoyed before the 1990s, when the LAPD was lionized on dozens of TV shows from "Dragnet" to "Hunter."
"The department will be under a microscope," said former Police Chief Ed Davis. "The main thing is to preserve order with due consideration of constitutional rights, but zero tolerance for violence."
But the department's leading local critic maintains that is impossible. "The LAPD is simply unable to control itself," says lawyer Steven Yagman, who has filed dozens of brutality suits against the department and won several large cases. "They are a bastion of institutionalized thuggery and they can't change that. They are unto themselves and not under any effective civilian control."
Mr. Yagman predicts the convention won't be a seminal moment for changing the image of the police, but "it could easily turn into an apocalyptic moment."
Police are working hard to prevent that. They have rehearsed encounters with demonstrators in several locations. Mounted police conducted a mock confrontation with fake demonstrators as recently as Saturday at an equestrian center north of Los Angeles. Recruited from police Explorer Scout posts, the ersatz demonstrators created chaos for a few moments as they dashed at officers with arms flailing and broomsticks waving.
But with each staged clash, the horses and the men atop them appeared to grow calmer as they forced protesters into a corner.
"We think it will be somewhere between Philadelphia and Seattle," said one police spokesman, referring to the relative calm at last week's Republican convention and the chaos surrounding the World Trade Organization meeting in Washington state last spring.
"We anticipate the majority of people will be there to peacefully demonstrate, but there's going to be knuckleheads, too," said Officer Pete McConnell.
Sheriff's Deputy Dave Disbro, who helped train the LAPD horsemen, added: "There are some real subversive groups out there and their sole aim is to disrupt the convention and cause harm. We're training for the worst-case scenario, and we have to get better at our job, because the protesters are getting better at theirs."
Police Chief Bernard Parks warns demonstrators that he can bring in hundreds of reinforcements from 42 nearby police departments and the California Highway Patrol, as well as 3,000 troops of the California National Guard who will be on standby.
But protesters say they won't be deterred. After leaders trained for two weeks in an encampment in the mountains of Malibu, they insist they will not keep to a schedule in a protest pen, as demonstrators have done at some past political conventions.
The LAPD hoped for such an arrangement, initially setting up a demonstration area two blocks from the Staples Center convention hall. But federal District Judge Gary Feess ruled last month that was too far away, and a new protest area was designated in a parking lot across the street from the Staples Center's main entrance.
But that doesn't satisfy protesters, said Shawn McDougal, an organizer with the D2K Network coalition of protesting groups, "We're not going to be contained in some parking lot. It's safe to assume people will be in the streets everywhere."
Demonstrators insist that even their deliberate civil disobedience will be nonviolent, including hanging banners from skyscrapers, blocking major intersections and barricading some building entrances.
"If the demonstrators choose not to go to the designated area and they … do not violate the law by getting into the street and blocking buildings, then they are just welcome people in the city," said Chief Parks. "But if they start violating the law and disrupting traffic, then it's a police matter.
"People keep forgetting that our No. 1 priority is not the demonstrations, it is the safety of the millions of people who live and work here. The second issue is to have the convention go on orderly and conduct their business. The third issue is dealing with protests."
Besides the special training sessions, all police vacations were canceled for two weeks before and after the convention and officers have been told they could be placed on 12-hour shifts. Including potential reinforcements, a police force of as many as 18,000 could be put in the streets within a few hours without help from the National Guard.
More than $4 million worth of tear gas, pepper spray and other riot-control gear was purchased for the occasion.
Police say they don't want to use any of those resources. In one meeting with demonstration organizers at a protest headquarters, Sgt. Cathy Riggs expressed the hopes of many officers.
"We need to make sure things are going to be peaceful and that's our biggest concern," she said. "I don't want to get hurt, my mom doesn't want me to get hurt … and we don't want to have to hurt other people, either."

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