Saturday, October 30, 2004

In The Hat has a surprising number of UK readers so this next item won't be much of a revelatioin to them. With money provided by the Hollywood Entertainment District, the LAPD will be installing 64 video cameras in certain crime-riddled sections of Hollywood.

Civil libertarians are disturbed. As they should be.

Video monitoring was hugely successful in lowering the crime rate in MacArthur Park this year. When the cameras went up, the drug dealers, hookers, scam artists and gangsters un-assed and found other areas to torment the citizens. The city is hoping for the same result in Hollywood.

The ACLU's reaction was weirdly schizoid. As reported in the LAT, Ramona Ripston, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, was okay with the cameras in MacArthur Park, but called the cameras on Hollywood streets, "creeping, Big Brotherism." Of the cameras in the park she said, "This was a park that families couldn't use because of the pimps, the drug dealers. In that particular situation, we felt maybe the public safety issue did win out." On the public streets, however, she said, "the Police Department shouldn't be able to monitor everybody's comings and goings."

This is an intellectually indefensible argument. Not to mention stupid. The park is no less public than the street. And isn't it just as likely that families can't use the streets of Hollywood because of the dealers and gangsters? If she had the courage of her convictions, she would oppose cameras at both locations. A public space is a public space. If you're going to espouse certain principles, stick to them. This is one of the problems with the causes the ACLU decides to adopt. They seem to be motivated more by politics than principles. In New York, they forced the school system to provide special rooms for Muslim students to pray. The same organization is suing LA to remove the crucifix from the mission church pictured on the City's seal. If it were operating on pure principle, the ACLU would sue to ban all prayer in schools everywhere. Then they wouldn't appear to be schizophrenic when it comes to the cross on the LA seal.

An equally strange response on the camera issue came from Jan "Ban the Fast Food" Perry. In a famous example of prying into the lives of private citizens, she got city money to "study" the health effects of fast food on her constituents. She felt that it was the city's job to examine, comment and maybe even pass laws that would regulate the fat and carb content of the food her constituents eat. What she was advocating was, essentially, restraint of trade by trying to limit the number of fast food outlets in her district. But of the cameras she wants in her part of town, "I think it's great," she says. Maybe her ultimate agenda is to be the town busybody -- catch people eating burgers and fries on camera and send a sternly worded note to their doctors.

And then of course, there's the racial aspect. There's always a racial aspect in LA, isn't there? MacArthur Park is overwhelmingly Hispanic. Jan Perry's district is largely Black and Hispanic. Couldn't the argument be made that the cameras are singling out and targeting minorities? Racial activists are always complaining that their neighborhoods have too big a police presence anyway. Now they'll have a lot of cops and a lot of eyes on the lamposts. Just think of the word fest Mike Davis would have on this issue. It might go something like this. "What Daryl Gates' armored cars and stick-wielding, helmeted Panzergrenadiers couldn't accomplish will now be executed with the brutal efficiency of an electronic distant early warning system poised to suppress the first inkling of any popular resistance to a white oligarchy that is toxic not just to the citizens it suppresses but to the very alluvial and earthquake wracked soil it claims as its birthright." I just saved you the $25 bucks you were going to spend o his new book.

Ripston's argument is correct. This is creeping Big Brotherism. She should demand the cameras in MacArthur Park be taken down and the ones in Hollywood be stopped from going up. She should demand that crime be stopped the old fashioned way. Cops on the beat.
While going through the unread material that piled up while out of town, the LAT and Daily News reported that LA's commissar of Homeland Security, John Miller, turned in his LAPD-issued .38 revolver and his city-issued SUV. The SUV was equipped with lights and siren and, no doubt, all the comm gear you would expect in a police car. Why a civilian would need all that is beyond comprehension. He may fancy himself as JOE FRIDAY, but he's NOT a cop.

This was in the aftermath of Miller accidentally toting a loaded gun in his carry-on luggage at LAX. He still gets to keep his civilian carry permit which allows him to carry a concealed handgun. Two-tiered justice here. A "non-connected" civilian would have had his permit yanked in a heartbeat. That is, if a non-connected civilian would ever have a snowball's chance in Fallouja of getting a carry permit from the LAPD in the first place. LAPD, like most police agencies in left-leaning Claifornia, only issues permits to "friends" of the department (Miller, Dianne Feinstein, Sean Penn) or to people who hire lawyers and spend thousands of dollars in litigation with the city. Since my last posting on this issue, a reader informed me that an average civilian CAN get one of those rare LAPD carry permits (my reader has one) but you'll need a lawyer, money and patience. Which of course, no longer makes that civilian "average" because most people don't have the money and time to sue the city.

If Miller really wants to play cop, he should follow Chief Bratton's lead and take the P.O.S.T. courses and the exam. This is an issue that goes beyond simple fairness and equal representation. There's a huge liability issue as well. If Miller decided to go on a Code 3 run for some reason and takes out a mini-bus full of kids, imagine the lawsuits and the pay out. It's crazy to issue specialized equipment like a full-on emergency response vehicle, like the SUV, without the proper training and credentials.
We're back after a productive trip out of state but getting set to leave again next week. Love the research, hate staying in motels. Crime research, especially when you're visiting places like Mule Creek, Corcoran and Blythe, isn't exactly destination travel. You don't have much choice in lodging. It's either the motel next to the truck stop or the one next to the feed lot. Every time I check into one of these, I can't help but think of the story of a couple who complained about the lumpy bed in their room and discovered that the previous guest had stuffed a body between the box spring and the mattress.

Motels, or motor lodges as they were known in the days before nipple rings and suicide bombers, have long been popular hide-outs for criminals. In WHITE HEAT, Cody Jarrett hid out in several with his wife and his mother. Cody's mom rubbed his neck when he got those awful headaches. His wife smoked cigarettes and looked bored.

In HIGH SIERRA, Roy Earle and Marie Garson (and their adopted dog PARD) hopped around motels from the San Fernando Valley to Lone Pine. In the world of non-fiction, everyone from the Barrow gang to badland couple of Charley Starkweather and Caryl Fugate copped Zs and watched the parking lot for the heat in motels.

In the modern age, motels aren't just for hiding out from the cops or the spouse anymore. They've become forward deployed bases of operation. The 13 EME meetings that the FBI videotaped and used as evidence in the US vs. Aguirre RICO trial in 1995 were all conducted in the same motel in Rosemead. Unknown if the brothers got a frequent user discount. The CARL'S JUNIOR nearby was frequented by both TASK FORCE coppers and Carnals, sometimes just minutes apart.

Always versatile, the modern motel room has now become a handy chem lab for amateur and professional meth cookers. Recent advances in meth production have reduced the powerful chemo smell, but not the toxicity, so a seasoned cook can whip up a batch and be gone before the neighbors complain about that weird odor next door. OSHA should look into the toxic hazards motel cleaning crews might face after a meth chef decamps.

So the next time your travels compel you to stay at your typical NO TELL MOTEL and you feel a funny lump in the bed, a weird smell or some bizarro stain on dresser, be alert for what the previous occupant might have been doing. Of course, you could just sleep in the car.