Anaheim Police Shooting

Anaheim Riots Spotlight Need for Broad Police Reform

The city's law enforcement culture values aggressiveness over community policing.


While sitting in a restaurant in Philadelphia's Chinatown last week during my first visit here in more than a decade, I watched TV news reports of normally placid Anaheim, California engulfed in riots that exploded after that city's police officers shot to death two young men over the weekend. It was shocking. The photos of riot-clad police tussling with and firing bean-bag rifles at protesters brought back bad memories of growing up in the Philly area in the 1960s and 1970s.

These days, Philadelphia is a surprisingly calm place, but back then, when tough-guy Mayor (and previously police commissioner) Frank Rizzo ruled the roost, there were frequent confrontations. The worst incident actually came after Rizzo left office when city cops in 1985 dropped a bomb on a row-house occupied by a black liberation group and killed 11 people, including five children. Those were dark times, but it seems as Philly has learned some lessons that have evaded California police forces.

While Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait is, thankfully, no Frank Rizzo, he tried his hand at tough-guy rhetoric at a press conference: "Vandalism, arson and other forms of violent protest will simply not be tolerated in our city. We don't expect last night's situation to be repeated but if it should be, the police response will be the same: swift and appropriate."

Of course, we are all against violence, vandalism, and arson. Indeed, the mother of one of the victims poignantly called for calm. But it's ridiculous to argue that the police response was appropriate. Tait—who at least called for an FBI investigation of the police shootings that triggered the incident—has failed to live up to the promises he made when he took over as the city's mayor. Tait promised to foster a culture of "kindness" in the city.

It's no secret that Anaheim's police culture echoes the old Los Angeles Police Department culture that values aggressiveness over community policing, and the city administration has shown no willingness to confront it. City police have shot six people so far this year, five of them fatally. But all shootings are not the same. Sunday's shooting involved a man who was a known gang member who reportedly fired back at officers. But it was Saturday's shooting of an unarmed man named Manuel Diaz that ultimately brought people to the streets.

Diaz, 25, reportedly ran from police, possibly from plainclothes officers. He was unarmed and, according to a lawsuit filed by family members and by witnesses quoted in the media, a policeman shot him near his buttocks and then another officer shot him in the head. Police reportedly left him on the ground dying without calling an ambulance. It's not hard to understand the outrage, and then it's even easier to see how angry people got after police responded as if they were occupying the Gaza Strip.

After police officers beat to death an unarmed homeless man in Fullerton last July, hundreds of people took to the streets in protest and there were no incidents. Officials there just left the protesters alone. In Anaheim, the police—bolstered by reinforcements by nearby agencies—cordoned off the streets, stood in riot gear, and even fired painful beanbags at the crowd, including at assembled journalists. Police blocked entry to the City Council meeting and such policies helped turn an angry protest into a riot.

I covered one police shooting in Anaheim in 2008 after a 20-year-old newlywed stepped outside his house with a wooden rod after hearing a ruckus nearby. Police had been chasing a robbery suspect, and when the young man came out of his house they shot him to death. Even Police Chief John Welter, still the Anaheim chief, said the man "was innocent of anything that the officer thought was going on in that neighborhood," yet nothing apparently has changed since then.

While Anaheim has a deeper need to re-evaluate its policing policies than other cities, the police use-of-force problem is endemic throughout the country and especially California, where union priorities—i.e., what's best for officers, not the citizenry—have dominated policy decisions for decades.

Recent news reports show a significant increase in police-involved shootings in many areas of California. Police shootings account for one out of every 10 shooting deaths in Los Angeles County, according to a Los Angeles Times report. Videotapes of the encounters often show that the official version of the story is at odds with what really happened. No wonder police agencies spend so much time confiscating video cameras of bystanders, something that should bring a chill to every freedom-loving American of the left or right.

The state Supreme Court's Copley Press v. San Diego decision in 2006 shrouds allegations of police misconduct in secrecy. The public can have access to complaints raised against doctors, lawyers and others, but in California the misbehavior of public employees who have the legal right to use deadly force are off limits to scrutiny. Because of an exemption in the public-records act, police agencies need not release most details of their reports of officer-involved shootings.

Furthermore, the Peace Officers Procedural Bill of Rights (POBOR) gives accused officers such strong protections that officers can rarely be disciplined or fired. The code of silence is alive and well in police agencies, which are allowed to operate in virtual secrecy. Most citizen-review panels are toothless. We should never condone violent protests, but it's not hard to understand the frustration in central Anaheim. What if it were your child or your neighbor's child?

It's time for a real discussion about how police should deal with the community and under what conditions they should use deadly force. It's time to bring California in line with other states and open records to public oversight. If Mayor Tait is serious about creating a safer and kinder city, he will need to insist on this debate regardless of the expected pushback from the police unions and stop trying to channel Frank Rizzo.

Steven Greenhut is vice president of journalism at the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity.

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  1. We are so far from Adam-12.

    1. Didn’t it glorify the police?

      1. Fair but I think of it as an ideal or role model for officers.

        1. I prefer Barney Fife.

          1. CHiPs. All the way. They made me actually want to be a cop when I was a kid. Still, Simon and Simon, Riptide, and the greatest 1 hour detective show ever, Magnum P.I. made being a private dick seem cooler.

            1. As opposed to a completely public dick, like the Anaheim officers?

      2. It glorified the “protect-and-serve” cop, if memory serves.

        Not to be confused with the us-v.-the-“civilians” paramilitary cop.

        1. The problem with waging war on people, is that sooner or later you run out of civilians, whether because you’ve killed them all or they’ve stopped being civilians and are now shooting back.

          So the police now have armor that will save their lives 999 times out of 1000 if someone shoots at them? Seems like a poor trade for nobody but a few isolated criminals wanting to shoot at the Good Guys.

  2. We do need gun control; no person wearing a badge should ever be given a gun.

    1. I disagree. Cops should have exactly the same rights to carry firearms and use violence as other citizens.

      1. Notwithstanding my disdain for public sector actors, particularly the gendarmes, you should have detected at least a soupscon of snark in my post.

      2. And citizens should have exactly the same right to defend themselves against cops as against anyone else.

        I.e., if the cops knock on someone’s door without identifying themselves, and kill the innocent resident when he opens it, they should be charged with murder exactly the same as I would be if I did that. More incidental shootings, like the guy who came out with a stick, manslaughter. Again, same as if you or I did it.

        1. Should have said “…anyone else. Cops should be charged with the same crimes as every citizen, when they are the aggressors against innocent people, or accidentally shoot someone who isn’t even in the line of fire during a shootout.”

      3. Technically they do. They have the same right to self-defense any citizen does.

        The differences are that police are expected to go looking for trouble where citizens are expected to avoid it where practical and that the mechanisms of checks and balances on police power require that judges and prosecutors be separate from police, rather than in collusion with them (which is seldom the case these days).

        But the right to use violence in self-defense is indeed the same for police as anyone else. They just don’t get scrutinized nearly as closely when they aggressively, pro-actively “defend” themselves.

    2. So we’re talking more Mayberry, RFD than any other cop show on TV.

      1. Aside from Sheriff Andy, what other Hollywood cops have not offended the libertarian sensitivities of the commentariat?


        Mica? (the sheriff in The Rifleman, played by Paul Fix?)

        John Cahill? (the US marshall played by the Duke in Cahill, US Marshall).

        Theo Kojack?

        J.P. Harrah? (the alcohol challenged marshall played by Robert Mitchum in El Dorado, alongside John Wayne’s character, Cole Thornton).

        Officers Smitty and Hoppy, from Sandford and Son?

        1. Starsky Hutch?


          Crockett Tubb (Miami Vice)?

          Harry Callahan? (Dirty Harry)

          Officer Talkleberry, Carey Mahoney? (Police Academy)

          Popeye Doyle (French Connection)?

          Frank Bullitt?

          Frank Debrin (Naked Gun)?

          1. Popeye Doyle and the Miami Vice guys portrayed narco warriors. Instant elimination.

            Good with Frank Debrin. Good call.

            Dirty Harry is a tough one. I must confess, I like the character. Of course, many Eastwood fans would point to Inspector Callahan as their favorite Eastwood character, no doubt about it.

            For moi, Jose Wales so kicks the shit out of Harry Callahan, it ain’t funny.

            1. John McClaine (Die Hard)?

              Black Dynamite?

              Lt. ‘Hondo’ Harrelson from the tv series S.W.A.T?


              The Mod Squad?


              The Seven-ups?

              Hill Street Blues?

              Andy Sipowicz from NYPD Blue?

              Axel Foley (Beverly Hills Cop)?

              Constable Benton Fraser (Due South)?

              1. Not exactly POLICE, but I’d throw in Judge Dredd.

                Why? Because the guy is utterly incapable of violating the law in any way, he’s a religious zealot about it. He enforces the really nasty authoritarian laws whether he agrees or not, because that’s the law. If Mega-City One had our set of laws, or even our ideal set of laws, he’d be a superhero, rather than an anti-hero.

  3. why broad police reform is long overdue in Anaheim?and throughout the rest of California the country


    1. I wouldn’t mind reforming some police broads.

  4. I’m not one of the big anti-cop commentors here, but I strongly agree that nation-wide police reform is needed.

  5. It’s not hard to understand the outrage, and then it’s even easier to see how angry people got after police responded as if they were occupying the Gaza Strip.

    Really? C’mon, son.

    1. Link no work

      1. HTML How the fuck does it work?

        1. It was the squirrels ampersand-phobia…sorry.

          Trying again.

    2. I’m going to guess that Israeli soldiers have tighter rules of engagement than cops. Our soldiers certainly do.

      1. Indeed – US military have to have “PID” – Positive ID of a weapon, bomb, etc., before shooting someone. Chicago has had its share of people shot by police for holding a phone, comb, etc. The taxpayers have shelled out many millions – the FOP membership, naught as a result.

  6. Certain commenters to come along and inform us of how the civilians deserved to be beaten and/or shot by cops because, if they didn’t want to be shot, they shouldn’t have gotten in the way of the bullets.

    And how libertarians are so bigoted against pint-sized tyrants who only just abuse authority and initiate deadly force against unarmed plebes.

    Can’t you guys see they clearly have shiny badges?

  7. Why is the cop silhouette in the image beating the drama student for his “Jazz Hands”? Or does that question answer itself?

    1. It’s what the world would be like if Occupy [fill-in-the-blank] ran the world.

      1. He’s up-twinkling his own beating?

        1. No, it’s what would happen to anyone the Occupiers disagreed with. The Occupy movement is in favor of pure democracy, to the extent they believe they should be able to commit tyranny of the majority, since you don’t get more of a majority than 99% of the people. Or put in simpler terms, Occupy often votes people off the island.

    2. Obviously those aren’t “Jazz Hands”. The “Attacker” is resisting.

      1. It’s *clearly* a gang sign.

        1. The Insane Surrender Disciples?

          1. Ouch, officer — see my submissive stance! Hit me again!

  8. You don’t need to pen an article critical of the law enforcement system while reiterating you do not condone violence, vandalism, and arson. Reinforcing that you are a good citizen indicates timidity. None of us concerned about the Open Society should be timid in our appraisals and critiques of the aggressive and violent culture of law enforcement. There are no timid unions defending psychopathic thugs who get vacations when they murder innocent people.

  9. The Police Unions should be abolished; they have demonstrated over the past several decades that they are criminal conspiracies to subvert the laws of the land.

    The police who are left without union representation have only themselves to blame; they should have stopped the Union pressure abuses years ago.

    Outlawing the police unions won’t solve everything, but it would serve as a very good start.

    1. Then can we outlaw the police?

      1. Probably not; as an fifty-ish man with mediocre health, I have no real desire to try living in an anarchy. For one thing, I don’t think it would last very long, and I would rather have community hired police than privately hired security forces. But with the police unions out of the way, efforts to bring out-of-control police officers to book would be one hell of a lot easier.

  10. I’m curious, though. A lot of these protests attract outside agitators and opportunists who will do everything they can to spark a confrontation. What do you do about them?

    As for the unions, California’s bankruptcy by public unions will be used as a case study in university texts and courses for centuries to come.

    1. “A lot of these protests attract outside agitators and opportunists who will do everything they can to spark a confrontation. What do you do about them?”

      Put their names on the Thursday Drone Meeting Kill-list at the White House?

  11. Running from the police is punishable by immediate execution.

    He was reaching in his waistband for what I thought was a weapon and “I was in fear for my life.”

    “He was a well-known scumbag gangster that terrorized the community — (he deserved the assassination).”

    Has the PD Chief spoken with the officers? Oh, no. The Fascist Public Police Union Rules say that the officers first get to consult with union lawyers to synchronize and whitewash their stories. But somehow the Chief knows that it was a good shooting.

    This is all becoming too predictable.

  12. You left out the fact that Rizzo’s fire bomb also burned down 85 other houses in the neighborhood.

  13. On these types of riots some peoples just find themselves in the middle of police brutality.

  14. How would a police officer react if someone scooped up a beanbag or rubber bullet, loaded it into the same sort of launcher police use to fire them, and shot it back at police?

    Answer: Police would drop their crowd control weapons, draw their sidearms (or assault rifles) and fire into the crowd.

    This illustrates just how “non-lethal” police consider these weapons to be. So how is it they can get away with using them on citizens who are exercising a constitutional right the police dislike?

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