Search For Ex-L.A. Cop May Be Over
The week-long manhunt for ex-L.A. police officer Christopher Dorner, recently led to a cabin in Big Bear, which, after an exchange of gunfire, burst into flames, leaving a body inside. Host Neal Conan discusses law enforcement tactics employed and how social media was used during the search.
NEAL CONAN, HOST:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Bloodhounds, high-tech helicopters, a million-dollar reward and a thousand telephone tips, one of the largest searches in history to track down one man: Christopher Dorner. What's believed to be the body of the fugitive ex-L.A. police officer has been found amid the ruins of a cabin in Big Bear, California, where police finally chased him down.
He shot two sheriff's deputies, one fatally, before the cabin burst into flames. We won't get a positive ID for some time yet, but for now the hunt is over. Manhunts are not new, of course, but this case involved some unusual tactics. Police warned news helicopters away from the scene of the final showdown, asked reporters to stop tweeting.
The scale alone is unusual, and now there are questions being asked about whether the fire that consumed that cabin was set deliberately. If you work in law enforcement, what caught your attention about this story? 800-989-8255 is our phone number. Email us, firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.
Later in the program, lessons from the monarch of a 15th-century failed state: Richard III. But first to Big Bear, California. Frank Stoltze is on the scene there. He's a reporter from member station KPCC in Southern California. Good of you to be with us today.
FRANK STOLTZE, BYLINE: Hello, Neal.
CONAN: And any closer to an ID on the body?
STOLTZE: Not that we know of. There's going to be a news conference later today with the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department, and they may at that point positively identify the remains as Christopher Dorner. Few doubt that it is. Who else would engage police in this shootout and end up in this cabin? And now police have relaxed security dramatically around the Big Bear area.
So all indications point to it is him, although I've got to tell you there are quite a few residents in the Big Bear area who want that positive ID because they were nervous for the last five or six days, very nervous.
CONAN: And of course it turned out Christopher Dorner was hiding right next to the police command center.
STOLTZE: Well, exactly. That's where he popped up yesterday, in this condominium across the street from the original police command post that was set up last Thursday. That command post was broken down on Saturday, and so he could have arrived after the command post was broken down. We don't know yet.
But of course he was found after two housekeepers went into clean this - it's a vacation condo, and there he was. They tied him up, and he left a short time later. And one of them got loose and called the police, and that's what started the final chapter of this.
CONAN: And Frank, you misspoke, no penalty here - he tied them up, not the other way around. Let me ask you, though, we're now seeing some footage from police cameras of what - the siege at the end, and it looks like a battlefield.
STOLTZE: Well, an enormous number of bullets fired, according to police, and you even heard that in one broadcast report. One TV reporter was actually near the scene and just these loud bursts of automatic gunfire from police and also from Christopher Dorner.
It was apparently quite a shootout in the final moments. And that's what he had promised in that manifesto that is attributed to him on his Web page, his Facebook page, that he would engage in what he called asymmetrical and unconventional warfare in revenge for his firing from the Los Angeles Police Department five years ago.
CONAN: And now some recordings of police audio, their communications, at least suggest to a layperson they may have set that fire deliberately.
STOLTZE: Well, that's far from certain. Police have said they used tear gas canisters, and those are known to start fires sometimes. So it's far from clear - I'm starting to beep on my phone. It's far from clear that they intentionally set that fire.
CONAN: Yet you hear on that audio: burn it down.
STOLTZE: Well, we're trying to confirm whether or not that audio is police audio or something else that somebody perhaps created. So we don't have independent confirmation of that, and I'm unwilling to say that just yet.
CONAN: All right, so we'll have to await the forensics on that broadcast and make sure that we have the facts before we go ahead. As you followed this story over the six days of this drama, what struck you as most unusual?
STOLTZE: The fear among police officers. I haven't seen this kind of fear among Los Angeles and other police officers, really, at least in my experience, since the riots of 1992 in Los Angeles, where police were really overwhelmed. In this case, they were dealing with one of their former fellow officers who was trained. He is a former Navy man and had threatened to kill officers.
I talked to one officer who said he drove to work on that first day with his gun in his lap. I talked to another officer who was one of those who was under protective detail who had his family, his children sleep in his bedroom with him at night with the gun between he and his wife.
Police were really very, very concerned about Christopher Dorner.
CONAN: With good reason: Three of them are dead.
STOLTZE: Three of them are dead, and, you know, one dead in that final shootout, another wounded. It was really an extraordinary series of events and not just police. I talked earlier about the residents here in Big Bear. I talked to one fellow who said he had a shotgun and a Glock 40, and he and his wife kept those nearby in these days.
He even set up a mannequin in his front window as a diversion in case Dorner came to his front door. That was the level of near hysteria in this community for a while.
CONAN: Frank Stoltze, we'll let you get back to work. We appreciate you taking time out to speak with us.
STOLTZE: Thank you.
CONAN: Frank Stoltze, a reporter for KPCC in Southern California, with us on the phone from Big Bear, California. William Bratton is the former chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, he's now chairman of the security company Kroll Associates and joins us from our bureau in New York. And it's very good of you to be with us today.
WILLIAM BRATTON: Good afternoon, good to be with you.
CONAN: And as you followed this development over the past week or so, what struck you as most unusual?
BRATTON: Well, this one had many unusual aspects to it. First and maybe foremost, the almost unprecedented targeting of police officers' families. That's something that doesn't happen in America, and that just reinforces how egregious this individual's actions were, that he was not only targeting law enforcement officers but their families and a threat that he quite obviously carried out with his first two murders, where he killed the daughter of a retired police officer who had been his representative at his board of rights and secondly the boyfriend of that young woman.
All of his acts were against either family members or police officers. In the two instances in which he engaged other civilians - the two housekeepers up in Bear Mountain and the gentleman whose car he hijacked - he certainly had the opportunity to cause severe injury to them and chose not to. So he was myopic in his focus on law enforcement officers and their families.
So that doesn't happen in America, fortunately, and he crossed the line certainly in a big way in terms of that action.
CONAN: In the course of this - before he started, he released that manifesto, as Frank Stoltze mentioned, on Facebook, and in the - during the manhunt, the Los Angeles Police Department said we are going to reopen the investigation of the case in which he complained about racism and about he was fired for questioning a superior who had, he said, kicked a suspect and abused a suspect and by - for reporting it he was fired.
It was not a case, clearly, that his name would ever be cleared. He already was a suspect, I think, in three murders by then. But why would the Los Angeles Police Department reopen this case in the middle of this manhunt?
BRATTON: Well, Chief Beck, the current chief, my successor, made it quite clear when he made that decision that it was reflective of the new LAPD, one that I was very involved in helping to create, along with Chief Beck and most of the leadership, the current leadership of that department in that the department has nothing to hide.
He was tried; he was found guilty. The offense was significant enough to result in his dismissal. That dismissal was reviewed upon his right to appeal to a court in California, which found that the department appropriately acted in his dismissal.
His grievances are his grievances. The allegations of racism in the LAPD I categorically refute. That organization at one time had a history and probably the reality of being a very racist organization. Certainly the two major riots in Los Angeles in the last century were reflective of that. But this is a new Los Angeles Police Department, and it is not going to allow itself to be tarnished by the allegations of this murderer.
And let's be quite clear about this: He is a murderer, a callous, cowardly murderer, killed two innocent civilians, basically assaulted police officers who had no advance warning that he was coming at them and put a whole area of the country into fear.
The idea that there are those on Facebook and elsewhere that are attempting to glorify his actions or justify them, there is no justification for any of his actions no matter what his perceived problems were.
And as for the issue of racism, I've worked 40 years in this profession to deal with those issues. They are real, unfortunately, in American policing, but in the Los Angeles Police Department, they are largely behind that organization. Over 20 percent of the leadership of that department is African-American in a city that has about a 10-percent African-American population.
CONAN: We have to ask: Were you involved in this case in any way?
BRATTON: Well certainly. I was the chief of police. I dismissed him from the Los Angeles Police Department based on the recommendation of the Board of Rights, which is the department trial mechanism. It is made up of two commanding officers and a civilian, and those individuals, upon basically a trial they conducted and the facts that they were able to review, made that recommendation and upon consultation with a number of senior leaders in the department, the inspector general and the executive director of the police commission, I made the decision to fire him.
And that firing is what Chief Beck will review, and I don't have a problem with that, that it'll just reassure the public that this individual was not wronged, if you will, and that his allegations were basically the work of his own imagination.
CONAN: We're talking with former L.A. Police Chief William Bratton about the manhunt that appears to have ended in gunfire, in flames, at a California cabin. In a moment, why police asked reporters to keep the cameras away and not to tweet. If you work in law enforcement, tell us what caught your eye as this story played out, 800-989-8255. Email us, email@example.com. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News; I'm Neal Conan. And as we talk about the manhunt that appears to have ended in California, we should mention that funeral services were held this morning for Riverside police officer Michael Crain, one of the officers allegedly killed by Christopher Dorner.
Another officer, a trainee in the car at the time of the shooting, was injured. In the final hours of the standoff yesterday, two San Bernardino County deputies were also shot. One of them later died of those injuries at a hospital; the other is expected to survive.
Police tracked Dorner across the state and into the mountains using bloodhounds and heat-sensing technology. They offered a million-dollar bounty and got thousands of tips. We're talking today about the tactics used to track down the fugitive ex-officer. If you work in law enforcement, what caught your attention in this story? 800-989-8255. Email us, firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. Go to npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.
Our guest, former Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton, who also headed the New York and Boston Police Departments, he now serves as chairman of Kroll Associates, a New York-based security company. And we're going to get to calls in just a minute, but William Bratton, the bounty, part of that public money, part of that private money, is that normal? Is that unusual?
BRATTON: I'll respond to that in a second, but a correction that I'm a senior advisor to Kroll.
CONAN: I apologize.
BRATTON: I chair my own company, the Bratton Group. So you're probably working off an old Rolodex entry.
CONAN: Thank you.
BRATTON: In terms of...
CONAN: You know it's old if it's a Rolodex entry.
BRATTON: If you wouldn't mind, if you could just repeat the question again please?
CONAN: I was just going to ask about the bounty, the reward for information leading to the arrest or location, a million dollars.
BRATTON: Well, like many of the things about this case that were unique, the size of that reward offering was also unique, that I believe that's one of the largest rewards ever offered by a police department in this country and certainly the largest ever offered by the Los Angeles Police.
But the funds for that were raised from many sources and showing the widespread support among the public in that area for its police department and the idea that they recognize how dangerous this individual was and how important it was to get him off the streets.
CONAN: During the standoff yesterday, as we mentioned, police ordered news helicopters away from the scene, asked reporters not to tweet about events on the ground. The San Bernardino District Attorney's Office tweeted, quote, "The sheriff has asked all members of the press to stop tweeting immediately. It is hindering officer safety."
David Carr writes the Media Equation column for the New York Times and joins us from a studio there. Good to have you with us again.
DAVID CARR: Oh, a pleasure to be with you.
CONAN: And was this unusual? And some media members went along with it, others did not.
CARR: Yeah, I wonder what I would have done. As far as I can tell, it's the first Twitter stand-down that's ever been asked for. And you wonder: How is Twitter a special case? Is it different than radio, different than television? Could they tell you to stop broadcasting? Could they tell the stations to quit showing images? What is unique about Twitter that you could order people off it?
CONAN: There were also orders - I'm not sure whether they were orders or requests - for news helicopters to stay away from the scene. They could take pictures from a distance but not too close.
CARR: That's - that I think is - we've seen that before. This goes back to 1974, the Symbionese Liberation Army. That firefight was captured by news helicopters. There's been other examples. And you can see how physical airspace could be controlled by law enforcement, and they'd want, you know, a clear sort of envelope of operations. But Twitter isn't in really that kind of airspace.
CONAN: I wonder, Chief Bratton, if you've had any thoughts about that?
BRATTON: Actually, I'm not somebody who uses Twitter. I have to admit when I first heard they were requesting limitations on its use, I did not at that time, and still don't, quite understand that area of concern. There was only one media person that was in proximity to the final shootout that could be reporting with any accuracy once the helicopters were taken out of the airspace.
And that order came from the FAA, by the way. It was at the request of the sheriff's department, but it was reinforced very quickly by the FAA. So the issue of Twitter, if people were twittering, they would be basically twittering hearsay because there was only one reporter up there, and I'm not sure if he was broadcasting live during the course of that shootout.
CONAN: So David Carr, he could not - Twitter could not be carrying information like: there's an officer behind the tree 50 yards away from the house.
CARR: Yeah, correct, and I don't think - I think it would be of limited strategic value to the, you know, the man in question if in fact important strategic details were being leaked toward him. We - you know, he was in a cabin with no Internet access, had no cable, and I don't know there was assumption that in between having a firefight with police he had time to check Twitter to see what people were saying.
BRATTON: This discussion raises a very interesting point. Your opening question was about the uniqueness of this event, and it is certainly one of the larger events in recent times, the scale of it, and the involvement of the new age, if you will, with all of the ways that people have to communicate, and increasingly for law enforcement, the areas of concern, awareness and expertise that they have to develop.
So the comments we're making about Twitter, for example, will be one of those as we go forward, lessons reviewed from this. What should police expect? What should police try to limit as they engage in these types of operations? Again, I'll be interested myself just to understand what the issue was with Twitter versus the blogging and all the other ways we have to communicate.
I just, I don't Twitter myself, I wouldn't even know how to do it. So it's...
CARR: You'd be very good at it, Chief.
BRATTON: I'm literally a Neanderthal when it comes to twittering.
CONAN: David Carr, I wanted to ask you another question. We all remember the Unabomber case and that man's insistence that his manifesto be published by the New York Times and other newspapers. Here we have a disgruntled former Los Angeles police officer who publishes his manifesto on his Facebook page and has immediate access to the world.
CARR: Yeah, we live in a different age. You know, you have a guy who is more or less announcing not just to the world but some people who could be his potential targets. You know, he promises unconventional and asymmetric warfare, and he doesn't need to drop by - drop that off at the steps of the New York Times or at NPR or anywhere else. He can just push a button, and all of us will run toward it to see what he says once he gains notoriety.
So we're in a friction-free environment where everyone has access to a kind of microphone, including, you know, the assailant who was allegedly captured.
CONAN: And the assailant's been allegedly killed.
CARR: Thank you for the correction.
CONAN: The situation that Chief Bratton also mentioned earlier, where this is posted on Facebook, and there's some element on the Internet and on Facebook cheering him on.
CARR: I found that appalling and frightening as a citizen that anyone could gain the raiments of being a hero for some words. How appalling that people would stand there and cheer somebody who was weaponized, who vowed, you know, to kill people, who are assigned, you know, to protect and look after us because of some issues that he had with a particular department.
That doesn't really sound like a hero to me. It seems like that the Web has the ability to cloak anyone in a kind of heroism that might not be deserved. Just because they can say it doesn't mean anyone else has to cheer them on.
CONAN: Let's get a caller in on the conversation, and this is Morgan, and Morgan's with us from Sacramento.
MORGAN: Hi, honestly I kind of feel like when it comes to Twitter, it's instant-gratification media, and when it comes to live-tweeting events, especially when it comes to the safety of police officers asking for people to not tweet, it's just trying to further prevent the escalation of the event.
CONAN: So going viral and of course the numbers of hashtags, David Carr, associated with this event proliferated in the past week.
CARR: Yeah, we're talking about, you know, a virtual peanut gallery that's in the many, many millions. And it tends, as you point out Neal, to catch on and go viral, and it's a way for us to feel like we're participating, wherein the chief points out we really know nothing.
There was no visibility into the events. We're all just talking to each other, and it's a matter of speculation. It feels like participation, it feels like information, but it doesn't really scan as such in the hindsight.
BRATTON: There's an old Jimmy Durante act, skit, for people my age who remember Jimmy Durante, where he has a line: Everybody wants to get into the act. Well, that's what the world of Twitter and blogs and Webs are all about, everybody wants to be associated with what's going on.
And so I think your comment was right on the money. It's a perfect analogy of what goes on here. Everybody wants...
CARR: We could be having a very different conversation if social media played a significant role, which it has in smaller ways in other cases, in the capture of or the finding of this particular individual. It's not always a bad thing. Sometimes more information is better. It just didn't seem so in this case.
BRATTON: Well, in policing, we - as we're getting more aware of this world - I'm in the process, actually, of developing technology companies who focus very specifically on this issue of social media and open-source information and gathering data from it for police organizations and security organizations - that it is a phenomenal tool to predict when events are going to happen - flash mobs, for example.
BRATTON: I was over in London two years ago after the riots over there, and this medium played so much - such a significant role in the mob formations and the looting that went on over there. So it's both a blessing and an evil, and what we're trying to do in policing is, to as great a degree as possible, understand it and make use of it. It's a phenomenal tool in gathering evidence and developing cases.
CONAN: And that, David Carr, then raises questions about is something put out on Twitter evidence? Is something that's listed on Facebook, is that suddenly information that the police are able to look at too?
CARR: In the case of New York and Occupy Wall Street, Twitter very definitely came into play in terms of evidence against people who said they didn't know that they weren't supposed to be where they were, when, in fact, they're - the tweets that they made at the time showed they know - knew exactly where they're supposed to be and what they were doing, and those tweets came to haunt them.
I think, in this instance, part of the reason that it ignited Twitter in particular, is because this individual had a kind of spectral presence. We're talking former military, former police, every - you know, the little videos of him shooting. He seemed like some kind of antihero or villain, and it's the kind of thing that would tend to light up, as the chief points out, a mob.
It's like, oh, this dark person from another world who's got all sorts of terrible plans. You know, comic books and great, big movies have been written about such things. So, of course, social media responded ferociously to this storyline.
CONAN: We're talking with David Carr, who writes the Media Equation column for The New York Times. He's with us from a studio at the newspaper there. William Bratton, the former chief of the Los Angeles Police Department. He's now the head of Bratton & Associates. And you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
And, Chief Bratton, as you know, this is going to be a transparent investigation into what transpired into the investigation that got Mr. Dorner fired from Los Angeles Police Department. Have you been contacted by anybody? Is this - are you going to participate in that?
BRATTON: The - Chief Beck indicated his rationale when he made that pronouncement several days ago. There was already a lot of transparency to it, once again, through the mediums of Web, et cetera, the information that was contained in the Board of Rights hearing, transcripts, et cetera, the court decision. All of that is already available, and all of that, basically, is the information I would have used to have made the decision to fire him.
BRATTON: So what Chief Beck is promising is a continuation of what is a transparent process, limited only by - there are, in California, fairly significant laws prohibiting dissemination of information from a person's personnel file. In this case, the former officer chose to make a lot of that information available on his own, and the subsequent release of the court documents also made additional information available.
BRATTON: But there's not too much more to the story than what's already out there.
CONAN: Well, since the case erupted, I wonder, did you go back and look at those files again? Did you consider...
BRATTON: Well, certainly, in terms of a review because, again, I had no recollection. I came on the incident in which he was discharged, so I've reviewed them. I also reviewed at least three different profiles that were prepared by professional profilers, both in and out of law enforcement, about him - what his potential motivations were and what his potential actions might be. They were very accurate in their predictions about how this would go forward.
BRATTON: The one thing that did not occur that I'm very surprised at, because this individual was all about gathering attention to his grievances, was that he didn't attempt to reach out after the murders began, that now that he had everybody's attention, he went silent, and nobody predicted that that would happen. The idea was he now had a platform to stand on. But I guess he was so busy murdering people and hunting people, he didn't have time to Twitter.
CONAN: David Carr, the chief has got a point. We've had recent case of a murder suspect in a Central American country, in Belize, well, tweeting and Facebooking his own escape and return to the United States.
CARR: Came to haunt him as well.
CONAN: Yeah. It's a - it's something that I think we're going to have to get accustomed to.
CARR: Yeah. The whole real-time aspect of crime, which came in, I think, with the advent of - there was police helicopters, and soon after there was news helicopters coming behind them, and we began to think of news sort of unfolding below us, in that we became omniscient viewers on these things. Now, the people on the ground committing these acts are able to look up and talk back.
And I think you're right, Neal, that we're looking at a new world where the communication - we're not just looking at these people. They're talking back to us. Sometimes as the chief points out, people are too busy continuing to perpetrate and flee to turn toward the camera and say something. But other times, that's really what they're up to, is they're looking to make a statement, to finally be heard, to use all the levers at their disposal - mass and social media, to talk back to people who they believe either need to hear something or they think - or their antagonists.
BRATTON: The other issue that is, in use of electronic devices that would actually propel most of this messaging, that it also allows police to very quickly zero-in on where that individual is. Say what you may about this particular suspect, he planned this for a long time. Seems he was very well versed. He shut up all - shut off all his electronic devices that we're aware of, prior to beginning these actions. So one of the reasons he may have not capitalized on the visibility he was seeking was the understanding how quickly use of any of those devices could've enable police to trace, very quickly, where he was.
CONAN: William Bratton, thanks very much for your time today.
BRATTON: All the best.
CONAN: And David Carr, as always, thanks very much for your time.
CARR: Always a deep pleasure.
CONAN: William Bratton of Bratton and Associates joined us from our bureau in New York. David Carr, from his officer there at The New York Times. Up next, researchers identify the bones of Shakespeare's son of hell last week. So what lessons could we learn today from King Richard III? Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.