LAPD Officer Killings: What We Should Learn From Christopher Dorner


If you’ve watched, listened, or read any recent news, you might think you know quite a bit about Christopher Dorner, “a former police officer and trained marksman…now being hunted by police in Los Angeles and across Southern California. They say he's already taken three lives, including that of the daughter of a police chief he felt had wronged him.” Also according to CNN, Dorner published an on-line 11-page manifesto, which he began by addressing to “America”:

“I know most of you who personally know me are in disbelief to hear from media reports that I am suspected of committing such horrendous murders and have taken drastic and shocking actions in the last couple of days. You are saying to yourself that this is completely out of character of the man you knew who always wore a smile wherever he was seen. I know I will be vilified [sic] by the LAPD and the media. Unfortunately, this is a necessary evil that I do not enjoy but must partake and complete for substantial change to occur within the LAPD and reclaim my name.”

Probably too late for vindication, but this is a shockingly clear and concise thesis statement, perhaps written by someone painfully resigned to the fact this was the last and only way to make his point.  Of course, there is no excuse for murder. It is a heinous act. But there may be a reason for it in this case.

Dorner’s entire missive says a lot of things but perhaps more importantly, he told us “why” he would do what he has done and, if not captured or killed soon, will continue to do. Dorner, an African American, former U.S. Navy Reservist, and a rookie cop in 2007, crossed a veteran officer early in his employment with the LAPD by disputing the facts of the arrest of a homeless man. This incident led to a series of interviews, hearings, disciplinary actions, and subsequently Dorner’s firing. However, in a “surprise announcement” yesterday, the LAPD ordered a review of the disciplinary case that led to Dorner’s dismissal and the new details that have emerged of the evidence he left behind.

But the LAPD has a long and well-documented history of corruption and bureaucratic bungling, as Dorner himself writes in his mea culpa. From the so-called Rampart Scandal to the Rodney King debacle, and with his own racially-motivated conflict with at least one fellow officer, it appears that Dorner figured that you cannot proverbially fight city hall – legally, so he seems to have resorted to other means. It may be hard for the average reader to empathize with an alleged murderer – especially one who is accused of killing a child – but imagine for just a minute that you are Dorner.

You are an intelligent, educated, and generally well-regarded black man who grew up in Southern California. You are degreed (Political Science, Southern Utah University) and possess the aptitude and fortitude to earn and accept a commission in the U.S. Navy. After the Navy, you join the LAPD, but within just a few months, the Navy recalls you to go fight in Iraq. You return to the LAPD after your combat tour to begin your training period again, only to be faced with a moral conundrum: tell the truth about a well-respected veteran officer’s abusive actions during an arrest, or keep your head down, do your job and tip-toe on that “thin blue line.”

According to the LAPD, Dorner waited a couple of weeks before self-reporting the incident in question. He may have struggled with his own sense of right and wrong, and needed the time to decide the right thing. However, his delay was considered suspicious and the paperwork describing the original incident that he signed and filed disputed his own admission. By the LAPD’s account, Dorner is now not only a liar, but a cowardly one. Who’s going to believe the new guy, and not the perhaps beloved veteran in this matter? And how does a man of Dorner’s pedigree, especially a Naval Officer who most likely at one time believed in “not self, but country” rationalize all of this within himself?

If you’ve read this far, now’s the time you accuse me of callousness or ask me to imagine I’m that poor dead girl or those murdered police officers. I get that, and their deaths are beyond tragic. But my point is this – we can easily demonize the killer; not so easily truly examine the circumstances that may have led to his horrific acts. And if we can’t or won’t look at how we “create the monster” then we’ll just keep making more of them.

We aren’t allowed to call Dorner a victim now, but I suspect he felt like he was one at some point. And from existing media accounts, it seems the victim Dorner tried to right a series of wrongs, but in doing so, became the target of the very organization that he was trying to make better. It is not easy to blow the whistle on your employer. It takes courage. Whistle blowers are often ostracized, ridiculed, targeted for reprisal, and sometimes financially ruined. And if you’re the new guy, or the black guy, or the guy who has worked his whole life for honorable causes, and maybe (naively) believes honor will always prevail, well then you might just become the very thing you oppose – the monster.

The views expressed here by the author are his own.