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Suit accuses LAPD of violating its own safety policies

The union representing rank-and-file officers also claims that state employment rules were violated when commanders told them not to wear protective helmets at a protest march.

February 19, 2009|Andrew Blankstein

The union representing rank-and-file Los Angeles police officers filed a lawsuit against the department Wednesday, accusing it of violating its own policies and state employment safety rules when commanders allegedly told officers not to wear protective helmets during a Jan. 10 demonstration in Westwood.

The suit filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court named Chief William J. Bratton as a co-defendant and seeks a temporary restraining order against the city from taking any measures that would discourage officers from using safety gear when dealing with crowds during protests and demonstrations.

It also demands that the Los Angeles Police Department comply with applicable safety rules in future situations.

"The LAPD's own emergency operations guide clearly states: 'Do not assign officers without helmets, vests and batons to crowd control missions,' " union President Paul Weber said in a statement. "We firmly believe the law is on our side -- helmets and face shields should be worn in large protest situations to prevent injury to officers and to help manage large groups of people who want to exercise their 1st Amendment rights."

The legal action grew out of a Jan. 10 incident in which an officer was hit over the head with a sign during a protest over the Israeli invasion of Gaza. Officials with the Los Angeles Police Protective League say on-scene commanders decided that officers should not immediately wear riot helmets out of concern the gear might escalate passions among the demonstrators.

Top LAPD commanders have said that officer safety is a priority during demonstrations. At the same time, they say the tactics that officers use for crowd control should be based on the specific situation. They said some situations require tactical gear, or "hats and bats," while others might not.

LAPD Deputy Chief Terry Hara said he did not mean that officers could not use their helmets in tactical situations that unfolded during the protest.

In addition to the lawsuit, the LAPD is facing questions from the Los Angeles City Council. Councilman Dennis Zine has introduced a motion ordering the department to provide a report on its policies that deal with preparing and equipping officers assigned to crowd control, including the "use and nonuse of helmets and other tactical gear."

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andrew.blankstein @latimes.com

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