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Over the line

It's too early for City Council members to question police brass on the MacArthur Park melee.

June 09, 2007

AS HE CAME FORWARD to begin his second week of City Council testimony on the May 1 MacArthur Park mess, LAPD Chief William J. Bratton was asked whether the deputy chief and the commander he publicly has blamed for much of the command failure that day were available to chat. His answer was out before he had even finished taking his seat.

"They are not," Bratton said tersely.

Nor would they be before the conclusion of the various internal investigations into their conduct. If then. Because they are protected by the Peace Officers Bill of Rights and perhaps other laws and constitutional rights. Bratton said he seriously doubted they would ever give the council their narration concerning their state of mind and their thought processes as they went about their work that day.

There it is. The silent treatment. It is exactly what continues to set the City Council off about MacArthur Park -- the perception that the Los Angeles Police Department is sitting on important information about what happened. But there is a line that separates what the council members are entitled to hear -- in open session, today, before the LAPD's investigations are complete -- and what is beyond reason for them to expect, at least at this still-early stage. When council members insist on the power to grill police brass in the midst of internal investigations that have been painstakingly crafted to encourage candor, they take a step over that line.

It's true that the council has power under the City Charter to subpoena witnesses. So do other city officials, such as the zoning administrator and the city treasurer. Those subpoenas, by the way, are to be issued by the Police Department. Just imagine the scene -- an LAPD officer serves a subpoena on members of the LAPD command staff against the wishes of the LAPD chief, interfering with an LAPD investigation.

And it indeed would be interference. Many on the council appear to forget that Bratton's reports to them have been preliminary. Numerous investigations are going forward, including those that will produce an after-action report, use-of-force reports, an inspector general's report, a report on the lawsuits arising from the incident, perhaps an FBI report and, at some point, a full report to the Police Commission and the public. There is no evidence that the investigation processes are flawed, that they are designed to cover up what happened or that anything would be gained by the council beginning its own, competing probe.

The council wants answers and is entitled to get them. When it wants to ask Bratton questions, he should show up and answer them. But by announcing its intention to bring in lower-level sworn city employees for questioning -- especially employees who have the right not to answer -- the council is simply assuring that it will get more of the silent treatment.

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