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THE DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION

A Common Adversary--the Heat

Weather: Police in riot gear as well as demonstrators are expected to be affected by August temperatures.

August 12, 2000|BETH SHUSTER and NANCY RIVERA BROOKS | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

It's not the heat, it's the irritability.

As they spend long days on hot, shadeless sidewalks next week, Los Angeles police and the demonstrators they will be shadowing face discomfort at best, disaster at worst, while Democratic delegates chill out at Staples Center in climate-controlled comfort.

On the plus side: This is Los Angeles, not Philadelphia, where temperatures in the high 80s teamed up with humidity of 60% and higher during the recent Republican National Convention.

On the minus side: It's August, and any heat wave could not only spread misery among those forced to spend their days outdoors but could trigger rolling blackouts that could extend the distress to some delegates' hotels.

"The one thing we can depend on is the heat," said Los Angeles City Fire Department Battalion Chief Gregory West.

"We will probably have more heat-related problems than anything," said West, who works in the Fire Department's convention planning group. "It'll be the same thing for the delegates, the marchers--it will be hot."

It's actually not expected to be much hotter than usual, forecasters say. Amy Talmadge, a meteorologist with WeatherData Inc., said high temperatures downtown are expected to be in the mid-80s on Monday through Thursday, with humidity at average levels of about 30% during the afternoon.

That's not bad by August standards--the weather was much the same during the 1960 Democratic convention in Los Angeles--but Talmadge noted that it will feel considerably hotter on unshaded sidewalks such as those on the streets ringing Staples.

Los Angeles police officers, once voted the country's best dressed cops, may be feeling like the country's hottest cops once they don their riot gear.

On a routine day, Los Angeles police officers add about 16 to 18 pounds of weight to their bodies by putting on their regular uniform, bulletproof vest and equipment belt.

During the Democratic National Convention, officers who will be outdoors have been told they may wear their Class C uniform--wool trousers, short-sleeved shirt, Kevlar vest, no tie and black ballistic helmet with face shield.

Additionally, most officers typically wear thicker body armor than the department issues and most also wear heavy, steel-toed boots.

Art Bachrach, a psychologist in Taos, N.M., who specializes in the psychological effects of extreme environments, said riot gear, especially helmets, contributes heavily to heat-related problems. But that may be the least of the difficulties facing police.

"People get irritable when it gets hot," Bachrach said. "Things you normally can adjust to become intolerable." People "can lose their judgment and sense of proportion," and may become unwilling--or unable--to listen to reason. Demonstrators may become more intractable and more focused on confrontation, he said.

"The police are going to have to show a hell of a lot of restraint," Bachrach added.

Protesters, for their part, have been advised to wear long pants and sleeves to ward off tear gas and pepper spray. The clothing may also make them feel hotter, of course.

Protest organizers say they are providing their people with plenty of water, and will have roving medical teams circulating throughout the rallies offering assistance.

The demonstrators' headquarters on West 7th Street, called the Convergence Center, has no air conditioning, but a cool breeze was rolling through the open doors on Friday.

Megan Ross, an organizer there, said she doesn't believe the heat will sap demonstrators' energy or stifle their rallies.

"We're not worried about losing the vigor of it all," she said. "We have a lot of people who are totally committed."

LAPD Deputy Chief Maurice Moore said the heat is the great equalizer: Both the police and the demonstrators will feel it.

"If it's hot for the police officers, then it's hot for the protesters," Moore said.

Still, Moore said he doesn't believe the heat will stop the demonstrators. "I have no doubt about that," he said. "They will be here to demonstrate."

If the weather turns hotter than expected, it could send state power authorities on a frantic search for enough electrons to keep the lights on--not to mention elevators and mini-bars at delegates' hotels in areas served by Southern California Edison.

The state came dangerously close to rolling blackouts in early August during a heat wave because the demand for electricity was more than power plants could supply.

Delegates have little to fear while they are gathered at Staples Center or staying at hotels in the city of Los Angeles, which is served by the Department of Water and Power. The municipal utility's power plants generate more than enough electricity to meet demand, including the needs of the 1,200 television monitors, 14,000 light fixtures and 2,500-ton air-conditioning system at Staples.

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