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Council Asks How Riot Hit, How It Can Avoid Replay

August 21, 1986|DARYL KELLEY | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — Counting itself lucky no one was killed in Sunday night's riot at a Long Beach Arena concert, the City Council this week pressed the concert promoter and the Police Department for reasons why better security wasn't provided and for ways to prevent a repeat of the violence.

Before referring the matter to committee for a full hearing, several council members Tuesday asked why security guards--not uniformed and armed police officers--were inside the arena during the concert by "rap" musicians that was interrupted by fights and ended prematurely in a brawl that left 40 people injured, three seriously.

An estimated 300 to 500 members of rival youth gangs in the jammed 14,000-seat arena broke furniture for weapons, fought each other, then robbed and beat others indiscriminately, authorities and witnesses said.

"I'm just glad to be sitting here right now without a dead child or several dead children," said Councilman Ray Grabinski during 1 1/2 hours of intense questioning.

Grabinski said he and Councilwoman Jan Hall, both of whom have teen-age children, "could have told you beforehand that there has been trouble all across the country (with audiences at rap concerts)."

Hall, in turn, said neither Facility Management Inc., which runs the Convention Center arena, nor the police had done enough since three mid-June concerts by heavy metal performer Ozzy Osbourne to gain control of the facility. One man died and three were seriously injured in accidents during the Osbourne concerts.

Police Chief Charles B. Ussery acknowledged that a "major riot" had occurred Sunday, pulling 102 police officers on two shifts off beats from throughout the city. But he said there was little to warn his department of potential problems beforehand.

Reports From Other Concerts

Police in New York City, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Detroit said concerts by the same group of touring rap musicians--Run-D.M.C., Whodini and LL Cool J--had led to "some bizarre conduct and some small criminal conduct on the streets, not in the arenas," said Lt. Kenneth Schack, who supervises special events for the Long Beach department.

"We did not expect a riot," said Schack. "There was no information to lead us to believe one would occur."

(After a Run-D.M.C. show in Pittsburgh in June, youths ran through the city breaking windows and assaulting pedestrians. Twenty-seven people were injured and 25 arrested. At a Run-D.M.C. concert in July in New York City, 18 people were arrested in a series of robberies during and after the show. The tour had other problems this month in St. Louis, when about a dozen people were injured when the crowd rushed the gate to get in. And the night before the Long Beach show, a boy was killed and three others wounded at Monster Jam '86, a rap music concert in New York City. Run-D.M.C. did not play at that concert.)

The level of police staffing in Long Beach was above normal, but not nearly as high as it might have been, said police and Facility Management representative George Matson.

Staffing would have been sufficient if the gangs hadn't unexpectedly shown up in force, Matson said. "The only problem with this event was . . . gang-related," he said. "No one anticipated the number of gang members that would be coming."

Matson said that in Los Angeles and Oakland gang members have been given refunds and excluded from concerts. Such screening did not take place at the Long Beach arena. It probably would not have been effective anyway, Matson said, because many Los Angeles gang members attended and they would have been unfamiliar to local Police Department gang experts. Also, many gang members did not show their gang colors or dress until after they had entered the arena and stripped away jogging suits, Matson said.

Under a plan for policing concerts that was prepared after the Osbourne concert, Ussery identified four levels of possible police staffing, depending on expected circumstances.

4-Level Police Strategy

The first level calls for simple traffic control alone, the second for traffic control plus a team of officers working outside the arena, the third for an additional patrol team and vice squad team inside the arena, and the fourth for still more plainclothes narcotics teams and a lieutenant to coordinate activities.

"The key to deterring conspicuous drug use and violent activity by patrons . . . is the provision of consistent and highly visible law enforcement," Ussery wrote in a June 27 memo to city management.

Sunday's police staffing was at Level 2, although Schack was inside the arena at all times, coordinating the Police Department's response to the sporadic violence, said Matson. In addition, security staffing was increased from about 100 to 130, he said.

Matson, the Convention Center general manager, told the council that in the future at least that level of security will be provided, that security will act quicker and more forcefully to quell problems and that police routinely will be inside the arena, not just outside.

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