LA response to riots faulted

Saturday, June 24th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES – A special police plan for possible disturbances after the Los Angeles Lakers won the NBA title directed officers to maintain order quickly, protect property and arrest celebrators who broke the law.

But a review of the Laker Victory Operations Plan, obtained by The Associated Press, shows that police did not closely follow the guidelines.

Officers were supposed to disperse groups rapidly to "demonstrate the department's unwavering determination to restore order," according to the plan.

After the Lakers beat the Indiana Pacers on Monday night, revelers set bonfires, looted businesses and destroyed several vehicles, including two police cars, during a rampage that extended several blocks from the Staples Center.

Several business owners and the police union, which has been at odds with Chief Bernard C. Parks since he took over in August 1997, criticized the police response. Television news footage showed unruly fans attacking a sport-utility vehicle and a news van outside the arena as dozens of officers in riot gear watched.

Union president Ted Hunt called for an independent investigation Friday and said rank-and-file officers were embarrassed by the response. He said officers did not receive orders to move against the crowd until vandals had caused extensive damage.

In the beginning: "Their orders were to do nothing. They had no choice but to do nothing," he said, noting that order was restored within an hour once officers "were allowed to do their job."

"In a couple weeks, we're going to have the Democratic convention here [at Staples Center]. ... Our officers want to be proud of what they do; they don't want to be embarrassed and ashamed," Mr. Hunt said. "We have to find out what went wrong."

Officers moved in several minutes after watching vandals stuff a police car with tree branches, broken barricades and newspapers, and torch it.

The plan, dated June 5, states that the department's mission during civil disorder is "to restore conditions to normal as rapidly and efficiently as possible."

Chief Parks defended the handling of the melee, saying officers accomplished their top goal of ensuring no one was killed or seriously injured.

On Friday, a spokesman said department administrators believe they accomplished all five missions of the plan: restoring and maintaining order; protecting life; protecting vital buildings, such as hospitals; arresting violators; and protecting property.

"Ultimately, we protected some property. As the operation went on, we moved violators out, and we minimized the damage as much as we could," Sgt. John Pasquariello said.

He said that although it looked like officers weren't responding, they were actually waiting for orders from command staff, who were deciding how and where to move the crowd as it became increasingly volatile. They acted once they formed a plan, he said.

Esprit Limousine owner Lisa Jones, who said one of her cars was hit with about $10,000 damage, is skeptical of claims that police were doing their best to protect people.

"As far as I'm concerned, the people in my car were in physical danger and they still did nothing," she said. "Their job is to protect and serve, and they did neither."