Gentle readers, fasten your seatbelts. We are about to embark on a virtual tour on which you will join me in a Los Angeles Police Department patrol car cruising some of the city’s most crime-ridden neighborhoods. We will be patrolling the LAPD’s 77th Street Division, which year after year ranks at or near the top in violent crime among the city’s 21 patrol divisions.
We are alert to the presence of gang members traveling through rival territory, or of those in their own territory whose behavior might indicate they are preparing to advance the feud. It’s just a few blocks from Main Street to Avalon Boulevard, but when one traverses that distance one has crossed from one gang’s territory into another’s. As we drive slowly along 83rd Street, we see gathered near the entrance to an alleyway just east of Avalon a few members of the local street gang, one of whom is perhaps responsible for killing a rival.
In an ideal world, you and I might approach these young men. We might radio for another unit or two to assist us, as the mere sight of our slowing and the opening of our doors might very well set them off running in all directions. What’s more, one or more of them might be armed, or there may be guns secreted nearby for ready access should some rival venture across Avalon looking to settle up. These and many other things cross our minds as we weigh the possibilities for our course of action.
What do we do? We drive on, for we are not police officers in an ideal world. We are police officers in Los Angeles in the year 2016, and we know there is little to be gained and much to be lost if we get out of our car and engage these young men.
If one of them runs? Well then we might have to chase him, and if we catch him we might have to hit him, an incident that will be captured on cell phone video and posted on YouTube and, if the footage is sufficiently inflammatory, broadcast on local television news.
And if one of these young men is armed and we have to shoot him, and if video of the shooting does not clearly demonstrate that we were fired upon first, we will see our chain of command abandon us and pronounce our tactics unsound, this despite the fact that few of our superiors have actually stood in our shoes. And we might see that video become a national news story, one that will prompt the police commissioners, the mayor, the governor, and even the president of the United States himself to offer their unschooled opinions on the deficiencies of our actions.
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