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Lawsuit alleges LAPD ordered helmets off

February 18, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
The L.A. police union is accusing the Los Angeles Police Department of ignoring safety procedures by telling officers not to wear helmets at a demonstration that eventually turned violent.The lawsuit filed by the Police Protective League against the city of Los Angeles specifically names LAPD Chief William Bratton. It essentially says that sending police officers into incendiary situations without protective gear, the proper protective gear, like helmets, is not only dangerous for the public, but it's also dangerous for those police officers, and they want that practice stopped.

The L.A. Police Protective League lawsuit stems from an incident in early January that happened at an anti-Israeli Gaza invasion protest in Westwood, where an LAPD officer was hurt.

"One of the officers was injured while effecting an arrest," said PPL President Paul Weber. "He was hit in the head by a demonstrator with a wooden sign. That officer was taken to a local emergency room, treated and placed off work."

That officer and others were not wearing their riot helmets at the demonstration, and Weber says that has been the practice for more than two years, under the orders of the LAPD. Weber says it's outrageous and puts officers and the public at serious risk.

"The chief of police has often said that police work isn't pretty and the department's argument has been in regard to this that it makes officers look too militaristic to be wearing their helmets and that it might incite a crowd," said Weber.

The lawsuit filed in L.A. Superior Court Wednesday seeks an order preventing the city from barring helmet use. On the standard helmet police officers have, the Kevlar material is bullet-resistant and the face shield protects from other projectiles.

Some theorize the changes may have risen out of public scrutiny of LAPD following the 2007 so called "May Day Melee" that left several injured and the city numerous lawsuits.

"It is extremely disappointing that we've been forced to file litigation for equipment that the department went to the city council [for] ... taxpayer money was spent to obtain the equipment," said Weber. "Officers are ordered to carry the equipment to the demonstrations, they're inspected to ensure they have the equipment, and then they are told to put the equipment into a vehicle where it is not accessible."

Weber said that the police officer that was injured January 10, 2009, in Westwood, has returned to the job under light duty.

The LAPD does not comment on pending litigation.


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