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
Gonzales is currently conducting an investigation into the
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
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
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