Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Sounds About Right...

A little late on this one because I was out of town and am not a regular L.A. Weekly reader, anyway. But a slightly snippy post on the L.A. Times Web site pointed me to an excellent investigative piece of journalism by Christine Pelisek over at the Weekly.

It's a long story that attempts to chronicle and explain the Tennie Pierce debacle. Long story short, Pierece was a black LAFD fireman with about 20 years on the job. He was unwittingly served dog food down at the old FS 5 in Westchester a few years ago after a beach volleyball game (FS 5 is down by LAX and includes some prime L.A. beach sand in its First-In).

Pierce, whose self-appointed moniker was "Big Dog," apparently hurt a young FF/PM's feelings during the game and was served the food in his spaghetti as a result. Without going into the details, it looks like the LAFD fucked-up its internal investigation, but the real crime was the city attorney's office bending over as it agreed to a nearly $3 million settlement that was rubber-stamped by the City Council. The ridiculous amount, for which Pierce claimed racial discrimination in the prank, was later vetoed by Mayor Tony. The council upheld the veto after it emerged that Pierce loved himself some pranks, too! Now the whole thing is heading to trial, where I suspect Mr. Pierce won't get a dime.

Anyway, read Ms. Pelisek's enlightening story.

As I've mentioned way below on this blog (maybe my first entry?) I, once upon a time, was a real-life emergency worker. One of my fairly brief stops along the way was at the LAFD, where I was on the receiving end of a very thorough EMS education and an even more thorough case of hazing and being at the very bottom of a shit-rolling hill. When the Pierce case was making big headlines a few months ago, I seriously debated posting a long diatribe about both my experiences with the Department and my opinion of Mr. Pierce's case. I decided against it at the time, and I won't do it now.

All I will say is this: Until the LAFD's culture changes in a VERY fundamental way, there will always be hazing, pranks, hurt feelings and the spectre of impending lawsuits in its fire stations. The Department's (and top city officials--including City Controller Laura Chick) insistence that change must begin at the top is exactly the opposite of what must happen.

The change in attitude must start at the very bottom of the ladder. The experience of fire department recruits from their first day at the Drill Tower these days is allegedly fairer and more judicious than ever before. But it's their first year or two in the field that shapes the behavior and attitudes that they will carry with them for the rest of their career. The culture that "turds," humiliates, denigrates and punishes the "boots" throughout their probationary year produces the same personnel that will, in turn, foist the same behavior upon the next generation of recruits. Until that cycle is broken, so too, will be the LAFD.

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