Rockies' Walker Likes Police Rides

Tuesday, July 18th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

DENVER (AP) — While Larry Walker insists he doesn't fear for his safety when he goes on a civilian ``ride-along'' with police, he does wear a bulletproof vest.

``I put it on in case something crazy happens,'' the Colorado Rockies slugger said Monday.

The practice of accompanying police during patrols came to light Sunday when it was reported that Rockies second baseman Mike Lansing was with police when they conducted a no-knock drug raid that left an innocent man dead last Sept. 29.

Police Chief Gerry Whitman said Lansing remained in the police van while officers raided the wrong house and killed 45-year-old Ismael Mena.

The raid by the Denver Metro SWAT unit resulted in the ouster of former Police Chief Tom Sanchez and the reassignment of Public Safety Manager Fidel ``Butch'' Montoya. The officer who obtained the search warrant faces perjury charges and Denver paid $400,000 to Mena's family in Mexico.

``I was on the ride, but I didn't go in the home,'' Lansing said. ``I stayed in the van. It's no big deal. I can't really say anything more.''

Police were at Coors Field on Monday to get a written statement from Lansing between games of a doubleheader, but it was unclear if they succeeded. The district attorney's office also plans to speak to Lansing.

Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd was unavailable to comment Monday on whether the club was concerned about its players' safety on ride-alongs and whether it planned to prohibit the practice.

``We have been advised by Mike that he was in a van that evening,'' club spokesman Jay Alves said. ``He wasn't involved in any way and did not see anything.''

Walker, however, was outspoken about ride-alongs.

Asked if he felt the club should be concerned, Walker said, ``No, absolutely not. We're no different than any other member of the public who wants to do this. We sign waivers that allow us to go on these rides.

``When I go out, I don't get crazy. I sit in the car most of the time. I wear a bulletproof jacket just for my own state of mind. You don't have to wear one, but I do.''

Walker, the 1997 NL MVP and two-time defending batting champion, said he won't participate in a ride-along that is likely to subject officers to violence.

``If it's something dangerous where they're going after a suspect they've got nailed down or something, I'm not going there,'' he said. ``They tell you ahead of time. Or if I do go, I just stay in the police vehicle and don't leave.''

Walker said he has gone on ``two or three'' ride-alongs since coming to Denver in 1995, and at times has accompanied SWAT teams in Denver and in other cities. He confirmed that Lansing and former Rockies outfielder Dante Bichette also have participated.

``I have a tremendous amount of respect for what the police do,'' he said. ``I'm fascinated by their work. They're overworked and underpaid individuals, out there risking their lives. I have a lot of friends on the force.

``Just being out there, being in the car and riding around, it gets me pumped up. You don't need shooting, you don't need chasing. Being in that car, with access to the siren and lights and speed and everything — just thinking about that is enough. You don't need action.''

Walker was upset that Lansing was portrayed in a local newspaper and on television as somehow being culpable.

``It's so bizarre, so sad,'' he said. ``What did Mike Lansing do? He rode in the car. What did the policemen do? They did their job. They had a gun pointed at them, so they shot back. Now all of a sudden it's front-page news: Mike Lansing rides with police. It's uncalled for. I don't know what Mike being there that day has anything to do with anything.''

Civilian ride-alongs are common with patrol officers but are unusual with SWAT teams, though Lansing had the required ride permit for that day, Whitman said.

``He apparently was riding with an officer he knew,'' Whitman said.

Police said they shot and killed Mena after he pointed a gun at them. No drugs were found in the house, and an independent investigation concluded the raid was conducted on the wrong house.

Lansing, 32, said he frequently goes on ride-alongs with police.

``But it's not every day you hear gunshots,'' he said.

Sanchez said Monday he was never informed that Lansing was a witness to the shooting.

``I didn't know anything about Mike Lansing being there,'' Sanchez said. ``In fact, I was astonished by that revelation this morning.''