Police Officers Stunned By Verdict, Admit Problems Need Fixing
LOS ANGELES _ Silence, a numb, sickened silence, fell over the Los Angeles Police Department the moment the O.J. Simpson verdicts were announced.
At the downtown headquarters and on street corners near the courthouse, police officers huddled around transistor radios and TV sets brought from home to hear what many hoped would be a conviction.
Maybe that would somehow make up for all the months, indeed all the years, of criticism for ineptitude and racism the department had suffered since the Rodney King beating, the riots and now the Simpson case.
But as the ``not guilty″ verdicts were read, about 15 officers who moments earlier had been in the auditorium of police headquarters joking, ``Where’s the champagne?″ were rendered speechless. They hung their heads, eyes cast to the ground.
``You can see it in their faces. It’s a letdown,″ said Detective Steven Mulldorfer. ``The officers have been hit from Rodney King on _ especially uniformed officers. It’s just one more thing. It takes a toll on morale after a while.″
Some officers were just glad the case was over, at least one agreed with the verdict, and others became indignant and outraged.
``It’s a travesty,″ said Officer Robert Baptista, gathered with a group of uniformed officers in flak jackets on standby for an uprising that didn’t come.
``I was sickened,″ Sgt. Paul Acosta said.
``I’m glad there’s not going to be any riot,″ Sgt. Al Gomez said.
Officer John Porras, a Hispanic man with eight years on the force, said he agreed with the jury.
``Without any witnesses, without concrete evidence, it didn’t make any sense. There’s a lot of doubt,″ said Porras, who nonetheless disagreed with the defense argument that the police department bungled the case and framed Simpson.
Police Chief Willie Williams called the verdict a blow to the department.
``We have been pulled a little bit apart,″ he told reporters.
``I certainly hope the decision was not based on the defense team putting my department on trial ... that it was not made based on the race card that was played,″ Williams said.
``The few bad apples that came out in the trial, such as Mark Fuhrman, are not reflective of the LAPD.″
As shocked as many officers were at the verdict, some conceded the department has problems.
``In any endeavor, you wish there were things that could have been done better, but the cost of perfection is prohibitive,″ said Deputy Chief David Gascon in an interview outside police headquarters. ``There are so many false expectations. I wish there was a way for people to see and understand how difficult it is to be a police officer in 1995.″
Gilbert Aguilar, an LAPD forensics expert whose crime lab came under attack by the defense, said his department was sorely understaffed and processing crime scenes often turns into a production line.
``We try to do our best, but a lot we just can’t do,″ said Aguilar, who was called by the defense to testify about not finding Simpson’s fingerprints at the murder scene.
He believes Simpson is guilty based on the rest of the evidence his department collected and considers the verdict ``a slap in the face.″
``It feels like all the work I’ve done over all the years I’ve done for nothing,″ Aguilar said.
``Why go out to a crime scene anymore and collect evidence when no one’s going to listen anyway? I don’t feel like working. I want to go home. If I didn’t have any bills to pay, I’d quit.″