News & Politics

More Dishonesty in the L.A. Times About the LAPD

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

By the standards of typical Los Angeles Times reporting on the LAPD, the story was balanced. Which is not to say it was truly balanced, just more so than the usual anti-police hit pieces that all too regularly appear in what once was a respectable newspaper.

I refer to a story that ran above the fold on the front page of the Times’s Thursday print edition, available online here. “Revolving door of crisis on the streets, in jails,” reads the headline on the print edition,  while the online version carries the headline, “String of LAPD shootings exposes L.A.’s broken mental health system, officials say.”

The story, by Times staff writer Kevin Rector, opens with an account of an Oct. 1 police shooting in Hollywood. Police were flagged down by a group of tourists, one of whom had just been stabbed. The suspect was located nearby and identified as Grisha Alaverdyan, whom the police knew from prior arrests and mental health contacts.

“Now,” writes Rector, “Alaverdyan appeared to be in crisis once more as he held up a knife not far from where the stabbing occurred, according to body-camera video from the scene. He laughed and thrust his hips as officers trained their weapons on him. Then he moved toward them, knife still in hand, and they shot him with a live round and a beanbag projectile.”

This shooting, Rector continues, “like several other police shootings in recent months, highlighted a troubling trend of LAPD officers opening fire on suspects with mental illnesses, but also a broader failure of the mental health system to get people the care they need when they repeatedly fall into crisis on the street or come into contact with police in less serious encounters.”

So, the reader is intended to believe, the trigger-happy cops are needlessly gunning down people “in crisis,” when all they needed was the tender care of the mental health professionals whose miraculous ministrations are denied them by an uncaring government.

In this, Rector is partially correct. He goes on: “Instead,” he writes, “in L.A. and around the region, people with mental illnesses are cycled through what police, mental health officials and advocates agree is a dizzying, revolving door of temporary psychiatric units and jail wards, never getting the long-term care they need before they are pushed back onto the street until they eventually wind up dead or in police custody on a serious enough charge to keep them incarcerated for good.”

Related: L.A. Times and LAPD Ignore the Realities of Crime in the City

No one is better acquainted with the failures of Los Angeles’s mental health system than the city’s cops, to whom falls the task of dealing with this and so many other failures of government. A casual drive through any but the wealthiest enclaves in Los Angeles reveals the dystopian nightmare most residents experience, with homes, businesses, parks, and beaches all encroached upon by ever-expanding homeless encampments, the occupants of which are in many cases mentally ill and/or addicted to drugs, yet under the city’s current management are allowed to do as they please in the name of “compassion.”

So, yes, one must applaud the L.A. Times for exerting its influence in the effort to improve care for those in need of mental health care, but can this not be done without implying that the police, when confronting a violent suspect, should be constrained from protecting themselves or others if the person happens to be, as Rector describes Grisha Alaverdyan, the Hollywood stabbing suspect, “in crisis”? Does one man’s “crisis” enrobe him with protection as he commits a potentially deadly assault on another man? According to this story, Kevin Rector and the editors of the L.A. Times would have you think so.

Note how Rector describes other incidents in which LAPD officers confronted people described as mentally ill. “The day before Alaverdyan was shot by officers,” he writes, “police shot a woman named Evelyn Del Real as she allegedly stabbed her young son with a knife, police said. The same day, LAPD officers wounded a man named Tony Yoon with a projectile weapon as they took him into custody after he allegedly set his parents’ house on fire during a standoff.”

“Less than a week later,” Rector writes, “on Oct. 6, LAPD officers shot a woman named Victoria Bardales after she allegedly came out of a tent at a homeless encampment holding another woman hostage at gunpoint and fired at officers.”

Rector links to a brief L.A. Times story on the Evelyn Del Real shooting, but conspicuously absent are links to the LAPD’s video press releases on this or the other incidents. The Del Real shooting incident is covered here, the Tony Yoon incident here, and the Bardales shooting here. In all three videos, the viewer can see for himself the patience and restraint officers displayed before using force against the involved suspects.

The Bardales video was posted on Wednesday, so one might excuse Rector for not linking to it, but the others were posted well before theTimes story was published. One can’t help but suspect he preferred his readers not be aware of them as they offer clear evidence running counter to his narrative. Rector also omits the relevant information that Del Real has been charged with attempted murder against her son. Would Rector have Del Real’s “crisis” outweigh the terror experienced by her son, who for more than an hour was menaced with a knife before being stabbed multiple times?

To be fair to Rector and the Times, the story does present quotes from people who understand the problem. He quotes Dr. Jonathan Sherin, L.A. County’s director of mental health. “We are in a position now where we need to relieve [the police] of, frankly, a burden that they don’t deserve,” says Dr. Sherin. “They’re not set up for it, they’re not equipped, and it’s a cultural mismatch. In a perfect world, we wouldn’t just have a police beat, we would have a mental health beat.”

Just so. And in a perfect world, the police would be equipped with non-fatal weapons that instantly and reliably incapacitate violent suspects. But, as government has not delivered the mental health panacea Dr. Sherin wishes for, and as science has not delivered the magic weapon police wish for, violent and sometime deadly encounters with the mentally ill will continue.