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Lack of Response to 911 Call Probed

Immediate action was needed on Jewish center call of a window broken by a pellet, police say.

March 28, 2003|Andrew Blankstein and Richard Winton | Times Staff Writers

Los Angeles police officials began investigating Thursday why no patrol car responded to a 911 call reporting that a pellet fired from a BB gun had broken a window at a Jewish community center near the Museum of Tolerance, a call they acknowledged should have been acted on immediately.

The call came from the National Synagogue Youth Conference center on Pico Boulevard at 9:52 p.m. Wednesday, but was broadcast by a police dispatcher as an "information only" advisory, which would not warrant an immediate response. Police did not respond until the next afternoon.

That drew strong criticism from the Jewish community, including Councilman Jack Weiss and officials at the Simon Wiesenthal Center next door to the center.

"If a synagogue calls 911 at a time like this and reports something that on the face is potentially a hate crime -- or potentially a harbinger of something much worse -- I can't understand why there wouldn't be an immediate response," Weiss said.

John Miller, director of the LAPD's Homeland Security Bureau, said the department "dropped the ball. Now the question is to find out how and why."

According to those at the center, a handful of teenagers were standing outside the building, which has no signs indicating it's a religious institution, when a car passed and one or more shots from a pellet gun were fired at a window.

Written notes from the 911 call show that the caller said a window had been broken, possibly by a BB gun, and a car that might have been a silver sedan was spotted speeding away from the scene.

Miller said a review of the 911 tapes shows that the caller told a 911 operator that the incident took place at a "religious location." The caller was told that a patrol car would be sent. That never happened, according to police officials, because of a large volume of calls classified with a higher priority.

Los Angeles Police Department Cmdr. Paul Kim said that even low priority calls such as vandalism normally prompt a police response. But with the department on a modified tactical alert due to the heightened threat of terrorism, such calls are going unanswered, he said.

Still, Kim said, there was "no excuse" for the oversight. In fact, he said, it was the kind of incident that requires immediate response, given its proximity to other Jewish centers.

Rabbi Steve Burg, director of the youth center, said staff there made two 911 calls and a call to the local station house; they also left a message for an LAPD community police officer.

After a meeting with several LAPD officials Thursday, Burg said he was satisfied with their response to the communication breakdown.

Weiss, who arrived at the center Thursday afternoon minutes before the police came, said he believed any report of shots fired at a religious institution had to be the "highest priority for police, particularly if there are young people in the vicinity."

Officials at the center said it was unknown whether anti-Semitism motivated the attack.

About a year and half ago, someone spray-painted a swastika on the building and recently there have been instances of gang graffiti, Burg said.

Weiss called the breakdown in response particularly disappointing because of the planning that has occurred between Jewish institutions and the LAPD, much of it since a 1999 attack on a Jewish community center in the San Fernando Valley that left a number of people, including children, wounded.

The LAPD meanwhile, is investigating Wednesday's incident as a potential hate crime.

"Whatever kind of weapon was used was powerful enough to take out tempered glass," said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

*

Times staff writers Joy L. Woodson and Megan Garvey contributed to this report.

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