April 3, 2003
911 Calls Ignored After OU Shooting
City officials and the LAPD are working with Jewish community leaders to determine why two 911 calls went unanswered when a pellet gunshot shattered the front window of a building where a Jewish youth group was meeting the night of March 27.
Rabbi Alan Kalinsky, director of the West Coast region of the Orthodox Union (OU), at whose headquarters the incident occurred, said police have since been very solicitous and cooperative in trying to figure out how the system broke down.
"They will do whatever they can to make certain that we not only feel safer, but are safer," Kalinsky said.
No one was injured in the attack.
Community leaders are particularly disturbed by the incident, because the breakdown in communication came at a time when terrorist threats associated with the situation in Israel and the war in Iraq have put Jewish institutions on high alert. Since the shooting at the Jewish Community Center in Granada Hills in August 1999 and again since the Sept. 11 attacks, Jewish leaders have worked with the LAPD and city officials to fine tune internal security at Jewish organizations and to streamline communications between the institutions and the Police Department.
All that groundwork seemed to fall apart at about 9:30 p.m. on March 27, when, according to witnesses, passengers in a silver sports car shot a pellet gun at the tempered glass front window of the West Coast OU on Pico Boulevard. Several teenage members of the National Council of Synagogue Youth (NCSY), the OU's youth group, were standing just to the east of the window at the time called 911.
When no one showed up, NCSY Director Rabbi Steven Burg, who was there with the youths, called again and then later left a message with senior lead officer Mario Gonzales, a community liaison at the West L.A. station house. Gonzales didn't get that message until the next morning, at which point the LAPD had already been called in by 5th District Councilman Jack Weiss.
Gonzales is currently conducting an investigation into the communication breakdown.
Weiss said he spoke to Police Chief William Bratton on March 28, who explained that the initial call that came into 911 was received by a trainee, who took down the correct information. But by the time the information was kicked up two levels of supervisors, one key word had fallen out of the report: Jewish.
The incident itself, without the information that it was at a religious organization, became an "information only" dispatch, since no one was injured, and there was no license plate or clear description of the suspects, Gonzales said.
"We are conducting an investigation and hopefully this will never occur again," he said.
"Everyone I've talked to in the LAPD has been genuinely upset that they dropped the ball on this one," Weiss said.
Weiss called for a meeting between the LAPD and Jewish leaders from the Pico-Robertson area; it was scheduled to take place on Thursday at The Young Israel of Century City.
"This was very disappointing, because my office has worked closely to put the LAPD in touch with the Jewish institutions in L.A., and all seemed to be going well, and then this happened. Now we realized that no matter the level of coordination, we're all just one 911 operator away from not being that safe at all," Weiss said.
After Sept. 11, Jewish organizations met at the Simon Wiesenthal Center with city officials, the LAPD and the local office of the FBI. Individual institutions also met with Gonzales and other officers to work out security plans.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Wiesenthal Center, just across the street from the OU building, said it is important to determine whether this was a hate crime or a random occurrence. The OU building was tagged with gang graffiti in January, and is in a location that sees heavy foot traffic.
Cooper expressed concern that the shooting at an El Al counter at Los Angeles International Airport last July 4, in which Yaakov Aminov and Victoria Hen were killed, did not set a precedent in how these crimes are labeled.
In the El Al attacks, "everyone from the FBI to the city fathers did the equivalent of yoga manipulations to call it everything but what it was -- a terrorist attack. We want to make sure that the initial breakdown wasn't because an attack on Jewish institutions would be dealt with any differently than an attack on one of the multitude of ethnic and religious groups in our city," Cooper said.
Weiss advised the Jewish community to be explicit when calling 911 and not to assume the operator can do the proper analysis.
"When reporting a crime at a Jewish institution, the representative needs to state very clearly that this is a Jewish institution and if appropriate, indicate whether a hate crime may have been committed," Weiss suggested. "Make it crystal clear to the 911 operator what the situation is and why it is important that there be an immediate dispatch." Â