Los Angeles Police Department Capt. Bill Murphy was nursing a slight cold when he was assigned last week to protect a number of LAPD officers and their families facing death threats in an online manifesto by disgraced ex-LAPD officer and cop killer Christopher Jordan Dorner, who was killed Tuesday following a dramatic manhunt believed to one of the largest in U.S. history.
After working as much as 14-hour shifts for six days, Murphy was back at the LAPD Northeast Community Station on Friday—this time, with what appeared to be a full-fledged cold. Dressed in casual slacks and an LAPD T-shirt, the commander of the Northeast station took the time to speak to Patch in his office about the LAPD’s role in the task force to track Dorner and ensure the safety of dozens of people targeted in the fugitive’s online manifesto.
Patch: Is it correct that the LAPD was leading the task force assigned to the Christopher Dorner investigation, even though it did not participate in the search for him?
Capt. Murphy: No, the task force was run by what they call a Unified Command, which means different law enforcement agencies were involved in it. The task force was not [based] at the LAPD. I can’t talk about where that was, but it was [at] what they call the JRIC—the Joint Regional Intelligence Center, [which] was making decisions about the search for the suspect Dorner. However, the lead agencies for the investigation were where the crimes occurred. For example, the double murder in Irvine—Irvine would be the lead investigation for that.
Under the Unified Command system, people go into a meeting, and those who are the decision makers for a particular organization—we [LAPD] had [Assistant] Chief Michael Moore at that—come up with objectives. They say, Okay, these are our goals for the next operational period. This went on for days. So, in the LAPD—and I’m assuming other law enforcement agencies—we went into an “A” and a “B” watch. The “A” watch was from six in the morning to 6 p.m. at night, and the “B” watch was from 6 p.m. to six in the morning. So you always had a team of people running the investigation—the JRIC—and making decisions.
In the case of the LAPD, our mission basically was to protect the people who were the targets. I was in charge of that function, under Operations, which is protecting the officers—the captains—who were on the Board of Rights [that found Dorner guilty of making false statements before his dismissal from the LAPD].
I understand there were 50 LAPD officers—serving as well as retired—and their families that were offered protection.
Capt. Murphy: Well, at the end we had 77 locations. Our Robbery and Homicide divisions—our lead detectives down at police headquarters—did threat assessments, based on the information available. They’re good at it—that’s what they do for a living. Depending upon what was the target—the person [for example] that Dorner may have wanted to try to kill—they would put a certain threat level on them.
Obviously, the highest level threats we’d put the most protection on. For example, Randy Kwan himself was the highest level. So was Teresa Evans, the FTO who was Dorner’s field training officer when he was a rookie. Those people we put LAPD SWAT officers on. On many other targets we brought in other specialized uniformed resources, like gang officers. Depending on the level [of threat] some [officers] were inside the [targets’] house, some were outside. But we clearly were visible—we wanted that when Dorner came around he would see a bunch of police cars and a bunch of officers. It wasn’t like we were hiding in the house. The posture was visible protection.
Given the great cost of such an operation and the fact that officers were diverted from general patrol duties, did it make sense to put the individuals at the highest level of threat in a single house?
Capt. Murphy: We actually considered that as an option. There were plans to put [individuals facing] the highest level threats in a military base, and we were in talks with two military bases for that. Obviously, we had to bring in our risk assessment managers—after all, what if the military bases were attacked? But in the end, we decided against it [the plan] because there were too many factors involved—families had children in different schools, they had pets and what not.
What do we know about how Dorner’s truck got burned down? Did he torch it deliberately? Or did it catch fire when the axle broke?
Capt. Murphy: When they do the investigation, they’ll know for sure. They’ll bring in arson investigators who will get an absolute confirmation on it [the cause of the fire]. I can only say, being in the LAPD command post, that he probably did burn the truck. That’s what I would think—I can’t say for certain. It appeared to people that it was more like a diversionary tactic.
But the burned truck ended up being a handicap for Dorner. It immediately attracted attention to him.
Capt. Murphy: By the time they found the truck, it was hours later. We obviously didn’t know for sure where he was. That’s why San Bernardino [Sheriff’s Department] brought in lots of police officers to search that area—they brought in hundreds of ’em. If you listened to talk radio, everybody had a theory—that he escaped the mountains, that he was still up there. I believe we were aided by the snow. There was a tremendous amount of snow. Had it been a summer day and it was 70 degrees or 65 he probably could have got out of that area quicker.
I think his game plan—and again, the investigation will come up with what it was—was to go into a cabin and lay low. The majority of those cabins are not occupied year around. And it’s actually not a bad game plan if you just wanted to hide out for a while, being up in the mountains, where there’s not a lot of people. Unfortunately, he broke the axle on the vehicle, which changed the way he was going to have to operate. He had to go to Plan B, basically. I’m sure San Bernardino County will come up with what they believe why he burned the truck. It’s probably as simple as a diversion.
So in the end, they had him in a state of siege. There was no way he was going to get out of there, even though night was approaching. Did San Bernardino officers have to burn the cabin down? They could have just waited him out.
Capt. Murphy: What happens in law enforcement as well as the Fire Department is that we have an Incident Command system. It’s a very extensive system—every law enforcement agency and fire department in California is trained in it. In fact, the Fire Department created the system, and the idea behind it is to work together very quickly in a crisis situation.
In our case, the Incident Command system was to bring different law enforcement officers to capture Dorner and hopefully put cuffs on him, and if not, at least to neutralize him because he was out there killing and shooting at people. And many of them were police officers, so this was the highest level of threat that you could possibly have. When you’re out there shooting police officers—people who are paid to protect their community—it doesn’t get any worse than that.
So there was an Incident Commander on the scene with Dorner. I’m sure you saw the newscast—there were literally hundreds and hundreds of bullets shot. He had assault rifles and he had the ability to use ’em—he was ex-military, ex-LAPD—and he also killed one of their officers and shot another one. So I would never question what an Incident Commander would do under that [circumstance]. And today, in the L.A. Times there was a debate about that very topic. Several experts—kinda university professor type of experts—defended it, saying that, hey, this guy had already proven that he was basically a domestic terrorist, killed a bunch of people, just shot two officers and killed one of them.
Generally speaking, in a situation like that, does the Incident Commander have full authority to decide a course of action?
Capt. Murphy: I’ve been in situations involving dozens of barricaded suspects. The way the LAPD operates is that whoever the Incident Commander is—generally it’s the captain of the area—makes the call. And our SWAT—our Metropolitan Division—would come with a tactical plan and offer a suggestion. But whoever the Incident Commander is makes the call. I don’t know if that’s their [San Bernardino County’s] format. But it’s usually pretty consistent in law enforcement.
Chief Beck had said that he would reopen the investigation into Dorner’s complaints that he was unfairly fired from the LAPD. Is that going to go ahead, even though Dorner’s dead?
Capt. Murphy: Yes. Because I think the reason Chief Beck said that is because he wants transparency. He wants to maintain the faith and trust of the community. I believe what was already done—the investigation previously and the findings of the Board of Rights—will end up being true. I’ve been on many Board of Rights, and sadly I’ve had to fire somewhere between 12 to 15 people. So, I’ve done what the Board’s done and I know the process. I’m confident in the process. But I do believe that Chief Beck is doing the right thing. We’ll reopen the investigation, we’ll be transparent about it, we’ll share it with the world, and I expect that the [previous] findings will be upheld.