LAPD response to protests draws sharp criticism

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Wave Wire Services

LOS ANGELES — City Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez said the Los Angeles Police Department’s response to last year’s protests sparked by the in-custody death of George Floyd in Minneapolis “represents one of the worst examples in the history of the department.”

The Los Angeles City Council’s Public Safety Committee, which Rodriguez chairs, reviewed a report commissioned by the council that found that the LAPD mishandled various aspects of last spring’s mass demonstrations denouncing racism and police brutality.

I think we should all be outraged by it,” Rodriguez said, adding that the City Council and the public needs to channel the outrage into constructive outcomes and not let history repeat itself during the next large-scale event.

The first of three commissioned reports regarding the LAPD’s response to the protests — prepared by a half-dozen former members of the department, including a retired commander and assistant chief — found deficiencies in crowd control tactics, planning, command and control, use of less-lethal tools, arrest practices, preparedness and officer wellness.

Rodriguez called on the police department to report back to council members within 30 days on an overview of training classes related to crowd control, less lethal munitions, de-escalation, field jail duties and incident command systems.

Several members of the public called into the committee meeting to say that they didn’t think the report was an accurate depiction of the protests and that recommendations should not be adopted because the review team was too closely affiliated with the department.

How are we supposed to trust the findings of a report that was offered up by someone with strong ties to the LAPD and predominantly called upon members of the LAPD as their source of information for this report?” one caller asked.

Said Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson: “Folks who felt like this was the police department’s report, that one almost gets a giggle to me, frankly, and I can say this as an activist.”

Harris-Dawson noted that the team’s leader, Gerald Chaleff, has a long history of working toward police reform in Los Angeles. Chaleff previously served on the Los Angeles Police Commission and as a civilian commanding officer and a special assistant for constitutional policing to then-Chief Charlie Beck.

Several callers also expressed anger that the report recommended additional funding and the creation of an LAPD bureau focused on “public order policing,” more commonly known as crowd control.

Chaleff and co-author Sandy Jo MacArthur gave an oral report on their findings to committee members. They told the committee and the public that the team’s recommendations called for minimal additional funding and did not call for increased surveillance, as some asserted.

There is nothing in this report and nothing in any recommendations that recommends any increased surveillance, buying or any kind of activity like that,” Chaleff said.

He added the recommendation is for a “strategic emergency manager” to deal with all hazard events, including earthquakes, fires and other natural disasters, as well as civil unrest.

The recommendation detailed on the report is for the department to “establish a department strategic emergency bureau to be commanded by a deputy chief or civilian equivalent who has expertise in public order policing, incident command systems, liaising with outside agencies.”

A coalition of activist organizations, including Black Lives Matter Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Community Action Network and Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, wrote a letter to the committee ahead of the review to oppose the creation of the bureau.

Using this moment to enact an entire new surveillance and intelligence-gathering bureau permanently devoted to ‘public order policing’ is an extremely dangerous proposal. A bureau like this will place LAPD on a permanent crisis footing, armed with specialized tools to proactively monitor and target threats to ‘public order,’” the letter stated.

The coalition compared it to the department’s Public Disorder Intelligence Division, which was abolished in the 1980s and was often accused of spying on law-abiding citizens.

I of all people would never recommend (a bureau like PDID), since I spent most of my career fighting against that,” Chaleff said.

Chaleff told the committee that he reached out to Black Lives Matter Los Angeles and the chapter’s founder Melina Abdullah while creating the report but did not receive a response.

Councilman Kevin de Leon asked Chaleff if the department’s response to protests could be improved without creating a new bureau.

Chaleff would allow a high-ranking supervisor, which he thinks is necessary. He added that the department could pull resources from other departments to limit the cost.

Activists also criticized the report for not including that tear gas was used on protesters. However, MacArthur told council members that there was no evidence of tear gas being used on protesters by the police department.

The 101-page report found that many officers were not properly trained in crowd control tactics, illegally detained people who committed infractions, used “less lethal weapons” on peaceful protesters and created chaos through conflicting orders.

In the original motion, council members cited widely shared videos of LAPD personnel using force against demonstrators, including a video of officers beating protesters with batons and shooting rubber bullets into a crowd in the Fairfax district.

The review team interviewed more than 100 LAPD members, and city and plaintiff attorneys, and also reviewed department documents, policies, directives and tactics to reach their findings.

The report found that many command officers lacked expertise in crowd control and were not provided with “meaningful or relevant command-level training.”

Several high-ranking officers who were experts on crowd control tactics left the department between 2018 and 2020, and “the lack of expertise and experience in this area impacted the department’s ability to control the protests and, in particular, to prevent the criminal element from creating the chaos and violence that ultimately occurred,” the report said.

The officers’ lack of training in crowd control tactics caused them to not, or not be able to, isolate and arrest the people who were throwing objects, creating violence, or looting, according to the report.

Additionally, officers collectively employed a “significant amount” of less lethal tools, including batons, bean bag shotguns, stringer grenades and 37mm and 40mm launchers, which some officers were not properly trained to use, the report said.

Protesters reported being struck in the face and head and sustaining significant injuries, with some requiring surgery. A number of lawsuits were filed, alleging plaintiffs were injured by police while peacefully protesting.

The report also found that 4,000 people were arrested between May 29 and June 2 and the police department did not have a “clearly articulated plan” for detentions, transportation and processing.

People were detained at the scene for hours, without water or access to bathrooms, while handcuffed on pavement, detained, bused or taken to remote locations. Those who were arrested were forced to be in close proximity despite the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the report.