THE WATCHTOWER: THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH
BY PETER DANIELS | APRIL 26, 2020
Working for the Los Santos Police Department is often advertised as a front row seat to the greatest show on Earth, implying that policing and enforcing the law are not so different than watching your favorite TV series.
If that's the case, their show had its worst episode ever last week, when President Pro Tempore of the Senate Eugene Park was shot and killed by a marksman while attending a Democratic Party event in Ocean Docks with about two dozens of police officers standing guard.
How could anything like that happen? How could the second highest-ranking member of the Legislative branch be murdered in front of a crowd of citizens in broad daylight? Is being an officer in the Los Santos Police Department still a gateway to "the greatest show on Earth" or is the reality beyond catchy recruitment slogans more complicated than that?
THE HAZARDS OF A FAULTY STRATEGY
The dismissal of Police Chief Michael Houston led to a shakedown at many levels of the Department. With the arrival of Chief Aziz Nazari, the first Police Chief not to have made his way through the ranks but hired from another law enforcement agency, the Los Santos Police underwent many changes aimed at improving its efficiency and its image with the population it was meant to protect and serve. And while many of Chief Nazari's initiatives were quite successful and raised the morale of the rank-and-file, he also started a dangerous trend whose after effects fully explain the incident at Ocean Docks.
Under Chief Nazari, the Department engaged in an aggressive public relations campaign, in an attempt to re-brand and give the impression of an effective, successful agency that achieved its objectives with ease and for which no task was too daunting when it came to fighting crime. The greatest show on Earth, indeed.
But the offensive worked well. Citizens' approval of the LSPD rose noticeably from the all-time low experienced under Chief Houston and the enthusiasm within the Department was prevailing. This policy of "winning hearts and minds" by boasting about results without providing any concrete evidence continued under Chief Huerta and Chief Brown, neither of which realized the hazards this faulty strategy implied.
The first danger was purely internal to the departmental: it was the threat of overconfidence, with officers believing to be more capable than they actually are and being hesitant to challenge the views imposed from above. The second was a more public weakness that was bound to surface at some point: if you advertise yourself as the best, you need to actually back your statements up with your actions. If you don't, your credibility quickly drops to zero.
And that's exactly what happened at the Democratic Party rally where Senator Park was killed.
A LACK OF LEADERSHIP
In his first statement immediately after the murder of Senator Park, Governor Jerry Richardson asked the press not to "turn a man's death in a sham of the LSPD" and rushed to support the Los Santos Police, threatening to conclude the press conference right there, going as far as using an expletive with the press and seemingly following in the footsteps of his predecessors when it comes to shielding the largest law enforcement agencies from any sort of blame for their mistakes, no matter how apparent.
Likewise, Senator Charles Moreno, who was hosting the rally to announce he would run for Lieutenant Governor where Park was shot, added that the Los Santos Police "were on scene when it happened", probably not realizing he was just underlining how, despite the amount of officers present on the scene, someone was able to take a shot at the President Pro Tempore of the Senate and get away with it.
Their statements are not the first of their kind. Both up-and-coming and established politicians recognize that law enforcement agencies are a remarkable reservoir of votes, and are reticent to call them out, unless it fits their agenda. Governor Richardson and Senator Moreno are just the last of a long list of State and local government officials that, through their permissiveness, allowed the Los Santos Police Department to operate with insufficient accountability for years, with few, if any, consequences for their blunders as long as their image was kept shiny and clean.
In turn, this philosophy of protecting law enforcement agencies from the results of their own incompetence led the Department to internally develop a catastrophic shortage of leadership when people were promoted on political allegiances or depending on the quota they belonged to, rather than their capabilities at being good at policing and managing,
This lack of leadership at command and supervisory level showed itself in all its ugliness during the attack on Senator Park. The Los Santos Police failed to plan and deploy its resources adequately in order to watch over and protect the whole area.
The majority of officers were concentrated in the open with little to no cover and there was no tactical team to quickly respond to an active shooter. Access points were not secured nor kept clear, which presented a problem when armored vehicles finally arrived to transport bystanders to safety. There were no helicopters overs the rally, which meant there was no aerial cover readily available and police personnel on the ground could not obtain a rapid reconnaissance for any unexpected threats. And at the moment of the shooting itself, they were unable to react with the readiness required by the situation.
Chaos ensued as the on-scene supervisors failed to direct the officers to control the crowd and secure the perimeter. Management of police units was poor to say the least and tactical personnel arrived only with a considerable delay. A Department spokeswoman explained the tardiness of the Special Weapons and Tactics team to reach their area by stating that "tactical personnel was already on the scene, but not with the right equipment, and they had to go back to their facility to gear up".
THE LONG ROAD TO RECOVERY
It's undeniable that the situation looks grim for the Los Santos Police but Chief Daniel Swenson, who was appointed following the very short term of Chief Alexander Munoz, still has a chance to set things right. Although the LSPD has always been much more involved in power plays than its fellow law enforcement agencies, it has also always been more transparent throughout its history. Now, more than ever, it's necessary for that transparency to be applied.
At the end of the day, what's at stake is not only the image of a Department that comes out almost irremediably tarnished by this affair, but its ability to carry out its mission effectively and without delays. Regardless of how the investigation on the murder of Senator Park turns out, whether with an arrest or with a cardboard box full of police reports locked in a dusty archive, the Los Santos Police cannot just sweep what happened under the rug, but needs to own up to its mistakes. It won't be easy. It won't be pretty. But there are no clean getaways if the Department truly wants to improve itself.
The doctrine of invincibility and superiority fostered until now needs to be replaced by one of self-examination and responsibility. The communication between the Department and the people of Los Santos needs to be more honest and truthful, with realistic goals and without shying away from the difficulties of police work. The mistakes committed at the Ocean Docks rally need to be acknowledged by Chief Swenson and investigated by the Professional Standards Bureau, and the result of that investigation needs to be released publicly.
It's the only way for the LSPD to regain a measure of trust with the communities they swore to protect and serve. And perhaps once all of that is done, the Los Santos Police Department will finally return to its roots, when policing was policing and not "the greatest show on earth".
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