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Debate at LAPD: Is police riot gear the wrong fashion statement?

January 15, 2009 |  3:27 pm

Westwoodprotest_3When hostilities between Israel and Hamas began two weeks ago, Los Angeles police were told to be ready for possible protests and were warned to have their tactical riot gear, which includes helmets, at the ready.

But an officer's injury during a protest over the weekend at the Federal Building in Westwood has led to criticism that department higher-ups ignored that advice and sacrificed officer safety to avoid looking "intimidating and militaristic."

L.A. police union officials said they are outraged that commanders told the officers not to wear the helmets.

"I don't care where you go in this country, at demonstrations you wear safety equipment," said union President Paul Weber. "It's basic."

Guest blogging on Patterico's Pontifications, a veteran officer who writes about LAPD issues under the pseudonym Jack Dunphy called the decision to forgo the helmets "pathetic."

The injured cop, an unidentified officer from the Hollywood Division, was assigned to work the protest detail and was among officers told not to don helmets because it could be intimidating and incite the crowd, according to Weber and other LAPD officials. He was hit over the head with a wooden sign while supporting a group of mounted police.

How to handle protests and protesters has long been a subject of internal debate at the LAPD. One school of thought is that officers working a crowd should be fully equipped at all times to immediately respond to any violence.

Another has been to deploy cops in uniform -- but not riot gear -- within crowds, while having officers in the special gear nearby to respond if trouble starts.

Weber said it's not the official policy of the department to discourage officers from using their safety gear and that the union was not ruling out legal action to address the issue.

Photo: Police block anti-Israel protesters during a demonstration in front of the Federal Building in Los Angeles on Jan. 10, 2008. Credit: Jewel Samad / AFP

-- Andrew Blankstein