Report details LAPD response during 2020 protests

Every single aspect of the response to these events was negatively impacted by a lack of crowd control training for officers and supervisors


A group of retired Los Angeles Police Department veterans and others reviewed the response of the Los Angeles Police Department to demonstrations and disturbances in Los Angeles in late May and early June 2020 following the death of George Floyd. The result was a 100-page report titled “An Independent Examination of the Los Angeles Police Department 2020 Protest Response” that was made public on March 11, 2021.

In a nutshell, the report says the “disrupters” were prepared while the Los Angeles Police Department was not.

Here is a synopsis of the report's findings.

If the LAPD was caught unprepared for recent events, chances are many in law enforcement are unprepared for demonstrations and protests that turn violent.
If the LAPD was caught unprepared for recent events, chances are many in law enforcement are unprepared for demonstrations and protests that turn violent. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

Lack of pre-event crowd control training

In spite of Los Angeles’ riot-riddled history, the LAPD has done little to train personnel in crowd management and crowd control. Most of the commanders and officers with extensive training and experience had retired. Many commanders who were not similarly trained and without experience shared with the panelists that they felt ill-prepared to take a leadership role as the events of 2020 played out.

The report details that LAPD’s mobile field force training was cut back and then shut down in 2005 because of “other priorities.” Regularly scheduled training for officers stopped featuring crowd control tactics in 2004. There was planning to conduct this training in 2020, however, the COVID-19 pandemic prevented such hands-on training.

Every single aspect of the response to these events was negatively impacted by the lack of specific crowd control training for officers and supervisors.

Department planning

Agency planners had the mind-set they were facing “peaceful demonstrations” and approached planning with a “crowd management” mode. The report stated the department excelled in dealing with the “peaceful demonstrations” that occurred but did not transition effectively or efficiently to “crowd control” mode when violence erupted.

Separation made between protestors and the violence

The report said that during many of the “multiple peaceful protests” there were “disrupters” who triggered violence. The report declared, “Groups within crowds who appeared to be attempting to commit unlawful acts seemed to be well prepared highly mobile and well-coordinated.”

These disrupters mingled with peaceful demonstrators in small groups inside these demonstrations to instigate violence wherever they went.

“Peaceful protesters participating?”

The report recognized that the peaceful protestors often facilitated the violent “disruptors.” In many cases, the “peaceful protestors” would encroach upon the lines of officers. They would put up their hands and chant in unison. This would serve to block the vision of the officers in the line allowing the “disruptors” to come up behind this shield undetected and launch projectiles at the police line, triggering the violence.

The looters

The report declared the looting to be “organized” and often “gang-related.” Looters’ scouts would identify a vulnerable area rich with unprotected spoils. They would then summon a “convoy of up to 10 cars” filled with people, who would strip the area of its valuables and disperse before the police arrived.

Command and control

The report was highly critical of command and control. They attributed the poor response of leadership not only to the lack of pre-training for this event but also to a police department culture that has an established history of “second-guessing.” This debilitating combination made commanders unable to make quick decisions necessary in dynamic circumstances.

There was also confusion in the chain of command causing many instances of conflicting orders being given by multiple commanders.

Slow response and staging problem

One example of slow decision-making is seen by the fact that there were two days of violence before a command center was set up for handling this ongoing situation. When the command center was designated to be Dodger Stadium, the report critiqued the decision to make all officers reporting for duty, report there first. This drastically impacted the efficiency in the response since every officer had to leave their assigned areas to drive to Dodger Stadium to report for duty, wait for their assignment and then drive back to their assigned areas. This wasted a great deal of time.

Mass arrests

There were 4,000 arrests made from May 29 to June 2. This proved challenging because the department was ill-prepared to transport, process, feed, hold and provide bathroom facilities for this many arrestees.

There was an additional problem that arose out of a lack of coordination and communication between the District Attorney and the Department. Full custody arrests were made on many individuals who were arrested for violations that were deemed by the District Attorney to be “infractions.” In other words, full-custody arrests were made of these violators when they should have been cited and released.

Less lethal munitions

Some less lethal impact munitions were used. Los Angeles is facing a number of civil actions from people who were hit in the head and face by these impact munitions who claim to have been “peaceful protesters.” The panelists made no judgments on the force used in any of these cases but were critical of the minimal amount of training given officers in the use of the 40 mm launchers, which require a great deal of proficiency for the accuracy recommended in the use of these munitions. Yet, according to the report, most of the operators had not fired the weapon in training since 2018.

The other problem the report identified was that most munitions approved for use were primarily designed for the targeted impact of individuals and did not facilitate the dispersal of crowds.

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department

As a result of a request for mutual aid, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department responded to assist. The report said that the Sheriff’s Department deployed pepper ball munitions to disperse rioters but those munitions were not approved by the LAPD.

Tear gas

The writers of the report had this to say about the use of tear gas:

The LAPD has not used tear gas in a public order policing environment for decades. The LASD is authorized to use tear gas and only requires the approval of the incident commander, a watch commander or sergeant. LAPD patrol personnel are not equipped for operating in a tear gas environment and have no experience in doing so. Should tear gas be deployed near officers without the proper equipment, it would cause eye and lung irritation and widespread confusion. The Department asked the LASD not to deploy tear gas in the downtown demonstrations.”

Author’s note: In my personal experience in policing riots, after proper orders to disperse are given to a violent crowd and ignored by that crowd, chemical munitions utilized by a trained team is the most effective way to disperse a violent crowd insuring minimal, or in most cases, no injuries to officers and crowd members. Taking away the chemical munitions option from officers tasked with returning order in a large civil disturbance dangerously hobbles the police response.

Comments about lines

The panel described “Napoleonic Lines” being ineffective in making targeted arrests of leaders.

Author’s note: It appeared, during this discussion, the report writers seemed unaware that years ago the LAPD developed “cross bow tactics” that allow teams behind lines to explode out from behind the lines and dynamically, move, disperse, encircle, rescue and arrest members of the crowds. Lines are only one of many available tactics to a well-trained team. Tactics for arresting targeted leaders is also a skill, which can be practiced in training.

Blind to social media

The panel observed that the Los Angeles Police Department did not have anyone assigned to capture and analyze the incredible amounts of internet intelligence before, during and after these events, which could have served to aid in the response to the violence, as well as the prosecution of offenders.

Field force commanders did not understand basic field force tactics

The most effective tool against highly mobile and violent members of a civil disturbance has proved to be well-trained mobile field forces. The report states the mobile field force teams were under-manned at 45 officers and should have had at least 60.

Six mobile field force vehicles were destroyed by a small number of “disrupters.” Field force members had told their commander that guards needed to be placed with their transportation when the field force was out at trouble spots, but the commander disregarded the suggestion. In turn, the unguarded squads were destroyed.

Wellness

The report recognized that officers who are over-worked to the point of exhaustion do not function as well as when properly rested. Actions were not taken with officer wellness in mind.

Positive comments

The panel said the department did a good job at utilizing and assigning the National Guard when they arrived in the city to assist. They also positively commented that there was no evidence any officers on the street exhibited anything but proper application of trained techniques in the use of their batons.

Conclusion

If the Los Angeles Police Department was caught unprepared for recent events, chances are many in law enforcement are unprepared for demonstrations and protests that turn violent. Whether you call it crowd control or crowd management, now is the time to train and equip everyone in your department from chief to recruit on how to respond as a team to prevent, or when necessary end a large disturbance.

Just because this is a new year with a new administration does not mean this period of civil unrest is over. This premature assessment brings to mind a moment during a lull in a major riot years ago when a chief of police made a statement to a reporter, “The rioting appears to be over.”

Hearing this statement, a bystander walked up to the reporter and brazenly corrected the chief stating, “It’s not over until we say it’s over.”

It’s not over. Prepare now!

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