LAPD Says Helicopter Pilots Joking About Setting Echo Park on Fire Are Not Police

The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) has released a statement on Twitter in response to claims that its helicopter pilots joked about setting on fire a spot where hundreds of activists and homeless people were protesting on Wednesday night.

In the tweet, the LAPD confirmed that the two helicopter crew members "are NOT employees of the LAPD."

View our LAPD video statement to a post circulating on social media of a vile and disturbing commentary between two helicopter crew members. We can confirm they are NOT employees of the LAPD.

— LAPD HQ (@LAPDHQ) March 26, 2021

In a recording that was reported by the Knock.LA website on Thursday, a pilot in a helicopter is heard saying: "It's great when they put the fuel dumps on these helicopters."

Another pilot says "I would have dumped it on Glendale Boulevard a long time ago.

The first pilots replies: "I'll bring the match."

The audio was recorded at around 11.20 p.m. that evening from a feed on the live streaming website on Broadcastify.

Glendale Boulevard is the road that joins onto Echo Park, where hundreds of homeless people and their supporters were protesting against plans to move people living in the park out to complete $500,000 in repairs.

Knock.LA reported that five helicopters flew over Echo Park from about 6 p.m. on Wednesday and remained there until official disperse orders were given by the LAPD at around 11 p.m.

Newsweek contacted the LAPD to try and verify the recording. "The department is not able to confirm that this conversation is in fact a dialogue between LAPD employees, but an investigation has been initiated," an LAPD spokesperson said.

There is also a chance that the people who had the conversation may have instead been news reporters in a helicopter covering the protest.

Tensions had been simmering for a few days as rights of the housed and non-housed in one of the city's most scenic spots went head-to-head.

The park needs repairs that will cost half a million dollars, but the city said it couldn't safely make those repairs without the homeless encampment in the park being moved. It offered to re-house the homeless people in the park.

But activists said that moving the homeless there during a pandemic would pose a threat to their health and safety. Police were met by more than 200 protesters at the park on Wednesday night.

A series of dispersal orders were issued as crowds gathered near Santa Ynez Street and Glendale Boulevard, and police said officers were "assaulted with rocks, bottles and smoke bombs."

The LAPD denied social media reports that officers had deployed tear gas.

The police did not report any injuries from the protest.

Fencing is now erected around the park, and the site is closed to the public. The final homeless people in the park have been urged to leave and have been offered housing assistance and transportation, LAPD Chief Michel Moore said on Thursday.

Councilman Mitch O'Farrell said on Thursday that at least 166 homeless people who were living in the park had now been placed in secure housing.

Several Hollywood stars condemned the police crackdown on the homeless community in Echo Park.

Filmmaker Ava DuVernay reacted to reports that there has been an "installation of a fence," tweeting: "That's a snazzy way to say humiliate, uproot and discard unhoused people at Echo Park Lake under cover of night in a raid that you tried to keep secret from the public."

Author Roxane Gay meanwhile labeled the situation a "travesty."

An activist (L) and supporter of residents of a homeless encampment confronts police at Echo Park Lake in Los Angeles late on March 24, 2021, ahead of a planned and announced clean-up of the encampment - part of an estimated half-million USD city clean-up and repair effort. The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) has launched an investigation claims that its helicopter pilots joked about setting a spot where hundreds of homeless people and activists were protesting on fire. Ringo Chui/Getty