Sometimes the most dangerous people in the streets are the ones paid to protect you.
Early last Thursday morning, in a fog of fear and confusion during the search for a former cop suspected of three murders, Los Angeles police officers riddled a blue pickup truck with bullets even though it was not the truck they were looking for and not driven by the man they were hunting. Two women in the truck were wounded while the fusillade also hit other cars and nearby houses.
The Los Angeles Times quotes Police Chief Charlie Beck as saying later that it was a mistake committed by officers under "incredible tension."
The suspect, Christopher Dorner, 33, is believed to have since died in a burning mountain cabin after another shootout that killed a sheriff's deputy.
Admittedly, last Thursday was a wild and violent day. The cops were after Dorner, a former LAPD officer who was fired four years ago when a hearing board found he had falsely accused a fellow officer of kicking a suspect. Dorner is believed to have taken revenge on the lawyer who unsuccessfully defended him by killing his daughter and her fiancé. Police think he also posted an Internet manifesto listing 50 other targets, mostly in law enforcement.
At about 1:45 a.m. Thursday, according to police, Dorner got into a shootout with an LAPD officer who was lightly wounded in the head. Just a few minutes later, police say, Dorner ambushed two Riverside officers in their car, killing one and wounding the other.
Dorner was driving a gray pickup truck. And Dorner, you should know, was a distinctively large black man with a shaved head and enormous muscles. It would have been hard to think that two women were actually Christopher Dorner.
At about 5:20 the same morning, that blue pickup truck approached the heavily guarded home of an LAPD captain on the target list, and the cops opened fire peppering the truck with bullets. Nobody in the truck had shown a weapon or fired at the police first and Dorner was not in the truck. At 5:45 a.m. another pickup truck driven by an airport baggage handler on his way to go surfing was rammed by a Torrance squad car before an officer fired three bullets into the windshield. The driver was a thin white man who came away unhurt. But they got one thing right, that pickup was gray like Dorner's.
The LAPD likes to think they have some of the best-trained cops in the world. That's why they got rid of Dorner. And one of the many sad things about the case of Christopher Dorner is that he was fired because his honesty was in question. He didn't beat or kill anyone. He never fired his gun at the wrong person. At worst, he lied and he wouldn't be the first or last cop to lie under oath.
What he was found guilty of doing was bad, but not nearly as bad as when cops on the job shoot the wrong people. The LAPD said it fired Dorner because it was trying to adhere to the highest standards. So it will be interesting to see what happens with the cops who shot at those two pickup trucks. Did they act on the highest standards? When it actually counted, they failed the most basic elements of the shoot/don't shoot training problem. They fired at people who didn't match the description of their suspect and were not threatening anyone with a gun.
The shooting of a police officer is the thing all cops dread and what brings them together in fury. It's when they get a little crazy and self-righteous. When a cop gets murdered, the most important thing police seek is justice for themselves, not the public. During the week in which hundred of police took part in the Dorner manhunt, some people have asked why the murder of a police officer gets so much more attention from the police than the killing of any other citizen. No murder motivates cops as much as the murder of a fellow officer.
In those moments when the guns come out, it is a difficult and dangerous job. But difficult and dangerous circumstances are when all that training is supposed to kick in, not be abandoned in a moment of "incredible tension".
Nowhere in anyone's training manual does it say that it's smart police work for officers to empty their weapons on an unidentified pickup truck on which the color and license plate don't match the one they're looking for. Because you never know, they just might shoot two women who are delivering the morning paper.