Wednesday, December 08, 2010

LAPD Deputy Chief Pat Gannon goes after raves so he can protect youth.

By Diana L. Chapman

If he didn’t care about your kids, he wouldn’t have done it.

That’s all I can conclude about Los Angeles Police Deputy Chief Pat Gannon’s recent decision in November to call out the big guns when it came to two rave concerts at the Sports Arena.

While it was controversial to some, I consider his action to haul out an additional 200 plus officers and station them around the event’s parking lot along with drug sniffing dogs nothing less than commendable – especially while we are all waiting for the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to provide stiffer safety regulations to help curb disturbances at the events where the mind-altering drug, ecstasy, is commonly used.

But Gannon wasn’t waiting. He didn’t have time too. 

As far as he was concerned there was no choice if he wanted to protect youths from further harm. One 15-year-old girl died in June after an overdose complicated by the drug ecstasy taken at a rave and an 18-year-old USC student plunged six floors from a dormitory after partying for two days at another festival on Nov. 1. He had also used ecstasy, Gannon said.

What more do we need to know? Raves – or electronic music festivals as their promoters call them – have been out of control for years and always carried the underlying theme that ecstasy usage was just part of the package. Few understand more about the harmful damages of ecstasy abuse than a deputy chief who has spent hours talking with those impacted by the substance. 

“I know they’re wrong,” Gannon said of raves. “It’s been a huge problem for us. We’ve had overloaded trauma rooms. Am I really overly concerned? I think we are sanctioning things at these type of events. I have listened to other parents and spoken to kids who have overdose on ecstasy and they have serious brain injuries. 

“To me, there’s just not enough you can do to protect kids.”

Gannon, who heads the southern region of the LAPD, has both the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and the Sports Arena under his jurisdiction – where many of the Los Angeles festivals are hosted.

He also readily understood that we – the adults -- missed the boat completely to protect 15-year-old Sasha Rodriquez, a drill team member, who died of an overdose complicated with ecstasy. She had attended 14th annual Electric Daisy Carnival in June – along with 185,000 others at the Coliseum, prompting an outcry – especially from the overwhelmed medical community -- that these festivals need reining in. 

Before Sasha’s death, the festivals allowed ages 16 and up, but obviously if one underage teen slips in, there was likely to be countless others. (After the death, the coliseum boosted the age to 18 with an I.D.). 

Besides Sasha’s death, about 100 others at the same event – many overdosing ecstasy party goers-- swamped hospital emergency rooms and sixty drug arrests were made, according to news reports.

To further fuel Gannon’s concerns was a lesser known incident. At 6 a.m. Nov. 1 – a Monday morning-- an 18-year-old college student who attended a two-day rave fest that weekend, plunged six floors from a USC dorm – shattering nearly every bone in his body from the waist down. Jackson Roddy, a freshman from Colorado, told paramedics that he had mixed ecstasy, marijuana and alcohol, the deputy chief explained.

Of the phone call made to Roddy’s parents, Gannon said: “I can’t even imagine that.” The deputy chief has shuttled three children to college and off to adulthood. One is accountant, another a police officer and his daughter, the youngest, is a second grade teacher.

To me, as a person who only gets to read about the unnecessary injuries that have gone on at the festivals for years, they are just another Titanic in waiting. If we don’t take control now, we will have another sinking ship with a lot of drowning children.

It’s taken a lot of mayhem to get us at last to focus on what needs to be done to control these monstrous parties that attract popular hip-hop artists and rap stars. Since Sasha’s death (unfortunately we had to wait for that), the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors called for the establishment of a task force and will consider imposing tougher safety regulations. 

The task force --a mix of police, city and health officials – has turned in its recommendations which urge that the festivals end at 2.a.m and require those of drinking age, 21 and over, to wear wristbands so concession workers know who can legally drink alcohol. In addition, emergency personal are recommended to be on the site.

Gannon’s decision to go after the raves while everyone is waiting around for new safety guidelines to be adopted didn’t sit pretty with Los Angeles Councilman Bernard Parks, the former Los Angeles Police Chief who sits on the coliseum’s board.

Parks considered Gannon’s actions overkill and says the costs belong to the police – and not to promoters, something Gannon does not agree with. Parks also argued that Gannon seems to want to eradicate parking lot drug sales.

“…He should probably call in the Sheriff’s Department, the military, the National Guard, the military if that’s his goal,” Parks said in an article appearing on Los Angeles County board Supervisor Zen Yaroslavsky’s website. “There’s been drug deals at concerts before his birth.”

Wait a second – just because something routinely happens, doesn’t make it right.
That’s exactly what I like about Gannon. He understands that. If he could save a kid, he probably would call out the National Guard, the military and anyone else he needed. To the deputy chief, kids are the star on top of the Christmas tree and deserve the highest priorities in protection -- even young folks who’ve turned 18 – and still might not have the “maturity” to understand what they are getting into.

If the new safety guidelines are approved, the county board will send a letter to rave promoters urging them to follow the newly established precautions.

And I know someone who will keep a watchful eye on them to see if they do, trying to ensure there are no more Sasha or Jackson incidents to come.