An internal email from a commander at LAPD headquarters raises serious questions about the motivation behind certain arrests.
Is it possible the LAPD is policing for the cameras to "avoid negative coverage?" And if so, what does that mean about the integrity of the top command?
Local news from across Southern California
NBC4 obtained an internal email (full text below), not meant for the media, after requesting statistics on how many arrests have been made for illegal animal trafficking in Los Angeles’ Fashion District.
"One arrest has been made for illegal animal sales" this year and "none…for the purchase of animals," Officer Tracy Fisher wrote in an email to NBC4, answering the request.
Cmdr. Andrew Smith, who heads LAPD’s media relations department, apparently hit “reply all” when he sent the following message to Fisher and the Get Garcia Team:
"This story could be a black eye for us if we dont have a few arrests to show. The law has been on the books for months now, and the "rabbit people" are gonna scream that we dont care. Is there any way you or your crew could make a few arrests for illegal animal purchasing so we can avoid negative coverage?
When asked if this message suggested that Smith and his officers were policing for the camera, he said no.
"I want them to go out and make a few arrests," Smith told NBC4. "Not just because there’s going to be stories on it, but because it’s time to start making arrests. This is a gentle nudge to those officers to say, 'Hey it’s been on the books, we done fliers. Time to start going out and making arrests.'"
Smith is referring to a new city law that makes it illegal to buy animals from sellers on the street as of September 2011.
The LAPD held a news conference in October during which Smith publicly vowed to crack down on the illicit trade. "We’re here to say that it’s no longer legal to purchase these animals in the Fashion District," Smith said on Oct. 11.
But a visit to the area weeks later documented an illegal bunny trade that seemed to flourish. And the LAPD’s own statistics do not support the public relations rhetoric.
"It’s absolutely dangerous," said Ron Kaye, civil rights attorney who specializes in cases of police misconduct.
“When someone is losing their freedom, when they are facing time in custody, when they are going to have a criminal record, you want to feel very confident that this is based on an objective decision by law enforcement officers and not based on some political motivation in order to please the cameras,” Kaye said.
Civil rights attorney Connie Rice said the internal exchange "raises some questions."
As for the animal advocates, referred to as the “rabbit people” in the email, Smith wasn’t too far off when he wrote they’re “gonna scream.”
"I mean it’s demeaning, it’s insulting and unacceptable," said Lejla Hadzimuratovic, president of Bunny World Foundation, which rescues rabbits from illegal traffickers.
"I’m livid when I read this. After all this work I’ve done all the money we’ve put in," she said.
The group says it has rescued nearly 2,800 rabbits from the Fashion District in the last four years. Many of them of are sick, too young to be weaned from their mothers and need intense medical attention.
"I don’t trust that they care about animal welfare," Hadzimuratovic said about the LAPD.
Smith said he was worried he might be perceived that way.
"The Los Angeles Police Department is committed to making a difference in the lives of animals here," he said.
Still, Rice said she, for one, is "not happy" with the "cynical" attitude apparently within the ranks.
Smith, who controls media access to the department chief, denied NBC4 an interview with Chief Charlie Beck.
Below is the full text of the email exchange between NBC4 and LAPD. Personal email addresses and telephone numbers have been redacted.
From: "ANDREW SMITH" <REDACTED>
Date: November 14, 2012, 16:35:34 CST
To: "FISCHER,TRACY" <REDACTED>,"Peele, Robbi (NBCUniversal)" <REDACTED>
Cc: "HAINLINE, MELODY" <REDACTED>
Subject: Re: Arrest/Citations
This story could be a black eye for us if we dont have a few arrests to show. The law has been on the books for months now, and the "rabbit people" are gonna scream that we dont care. Is there any way you or your crew could make a few arrests for illegal animal purchasing so we can avoid negative coverage?
>>> TRACY FISCHER 11/14/2012 6:17 AM >>>
I have been attempting to get you accurate information and since those are arrests are not tracked in particular it is a process of discovering and checking all misdemeanor arrests in that area for whether or not they involved animals. Based on my conversations with Central officers, however, I can provide the following: one arrest has been made for illegal animal sales, none have been made for the purchase of animals.
Tracy Fischer #36418
Senior Lead Officer
Los Angeles Police Department
>>> "Peele, Robbi (NBCUniversal)" < REDACTED> 11/12/2012 10:45 AM >>>
I got your voicemail message and have left a couple for you, but haven’t heard back. On October 11, we asked Commander Smith for the following information:
- # of arrests LAPD made for illegal animal sales in the Fashion District since the press conference on October 11th
- # of people cited for buying animals on the street in the Fashion District since the press conference on October 11th
In compliance with the California Public Records Act, this information should have been provided within 14 days of the original request.
Can you please tell me when you will be able to provide the information in writing? Thanks.
Investigative Consumer Producer
3000 West Alameda Ave
Burbank, CA 91523