GUEST WORDS - I recently watched with great sadness the press conference held by attorney Ben Crump who is now representing the family of Valentina Orellana-Peralta, a fourteen-year-old girl tragically killed by an LAPD officer responding to what he believed was an active shooter call at the Burlington Coat Factory in North Hollywood, on 12/23/2021.
Because of the tragic loss of life, it is imperative that we as a city, ask the tough questions without trying to assign blame or guilt. In this series of articles, I plan to put forward my thoughts on contributing factors that led
to the death of Valentia Orellana-Peralta and how they may be avoided in the future.
Contributing Factors to the Confusion
After reviewing the Critical Incident Community Briefing NRF065-21 video released by LAPD on 12/27/2021: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bjcdanUhmSY&t=1s , I recognized how policies revised and influenced by progressive politics, old equipment, and outdated training have confused street cops and rendered supervisors almost useless in quickly unfolding tactical situations.
Note: While LAPD supervisors do a good job responding edged weapon calls or pursuit terminations, supervisors on scene at the Burlington Coat Factory appeared to take a backseat, as observed in the Critical Incident video.
Issue #1 - The Suspect
24-year-old Daniel Elena-Lopez walked into the Burlington Coat Factory and after sexually assaulting female shoppers, began to destroy property with a metal bicycle lock which sounded like gunshots to shoppers and employees.
Watching the Critical Incident Community Briefing video, I observed facial expressions and behaviors of Elena-Lopez that should have caught the attention of store associates or security personnel. Crowd management and monitoring requires personnel to look for behavior that is out of the ordinary for the environment they are in, e.g., walking through a store, pushing one’s bicycle is neither “normal” nor expected behavior in a department store.
Issue #2 – Store Security & Floor Associates
The moment Elena-Lopez began groping women as they shopped, and eventually raised his bicycle over his head as though he was going to throw it down onto shoppers on the first floor, Elena-Lopez’ behavior changed from odd to criminal.
While walking one’s bike around a store is not a crime per se, it is odd behavior and should have made security personnel or anyone watching security cameras to focus on this subject. These are basic pre-incident indicator observations that could have been made by security staff and/or store associates.
The fact that Elena-Lopez was allowed to walk around the store, pushing a bicycle without being approached by a store associate or security to personnel was confounding. How might the outcome have been different had an employee redirected Elena-Lopez to park his bike outside?
Issue #3 - The Incident Begins – The Fog of War
Once Elena-Lopez began destroying property with the bike lock, shoppers and employees began calling 911. Because of the noise Elena-Lopez generated, some shoppers and employees reported hearing gunshots to 911 operators.
It requires specific training to be able to make sense of the loud and confusing noise of an attack; one has to be trained to compartmentalize their natural fear and try to accurately assess the threat and decide on a course of action to survive. People not trained to act on their threat assessment will naturally default to the fight, flight, or freeze syndrome. Sadly, most will default to the latter.
Issue #4 - The 911 Calls – Conflicting Information
Civilians are not trained to give accurate suspect descriptions, do not know how to describe the crime they are seeing, and most certainly would not know the address of the store they happen to be in. Civilians cannot distinguish between breaking glass, handgun fire or rounds fired from a rifle; civilians only know it’s an emergency, they are scared, and they need help from police. The only thing the officers could have known in this case was that an emergency existed, and it sounded like an active shooter situation.
In Part 2 we will examine the politics of policing in Los Angeles and America in 2022, and in Part 3, analyze the tactics used by the officers at Burlington Coat Factory, the Vietnam-ear M16 rifle used, and the moment the fatal shots were fired.
Hopefully, this three-part series will shed some light on this tragic incident and move politicians, police administrators and the general public to be better prepared for any emergency while out in public and force police administrators to course-correct training and policy where necessary.
(Gil Contreras, Los Angeles radio and podcast host and founder of SEED Urban Ministries has written this article exclusively for CityWatchLA.com).