LOS ANGELES (CN) — The Los Angeles Police Department botched its response to protests last year against police violence, failing to properly manage crowds, shooting “less-lethal” bullets at protesters and sowing chaos through conflicting commands, according to a city report released Thursday.
The months-long, nationwide uprisings against police violence were sparked by the killings of Black people across the U.S. by law enforcement.
The killing of George Floyd, a Black man, at the hands of white former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who kneeled on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes as the man begged for his life, set off the largest wave of nationwide demonstrations last May.
As law enforcement agencies nationwide grappled with intensified scrutiny over their policing history, they also faced anger from the public for the excessive force used against peaceful protesters.
In California, police officers — some refusing to wear masks — detained protesters in conditions that made them more vulnerable to Covid-19 infection.
In Los Angeles County, protests led by Black Lives Matter and other groups were met with nightly curfew orders and incidents of violence against demonstrators by responding police officers.
The violent tactics by the LAPD sparked a federal lawsuit by the National Lawyers Guild alleging excessive force and civil rights violations committed against protesters, including claims of demonstrators being hit with rubber bullets and being denied restroom access or medical attention.
The report commissioned by the LA City Council found numerous department members — including command staff — said they’d not received sufficient training in crowd control tactics to be able to effectively handle the scale of protests last summer.
“In interviews with command officers, many opined that they lacked expertise in public order policing,” the report said. “Many said they were not provided with meaningful or relevant command-level training to be able to effectively manage large scale, complex events that involve violence and criminal activities. The department did not adequately prepare the Department command staff for events such as those faced in May-June.”
Police “skirmish lines” were ineffective against small groups of agitators or “disruptors” amid the crowds of mostly peaceful demonstrators, the report said.
Regarding officers’ use of so-called less-lethal weapons, the report acknowledged that peaceful demonstrators were struck by batons, rubber bullets and bean bag shotgun rounds and said the LAPD failed to fully train officers to use a 40 millimeter less lethal weapon.
The training lasted only two hours and focused on teaching officers to fire 40 millimeter rounds at a stationary target, the report found.
“The 40mm training was problematic for several reasons, including that the dynamics dramatically change in a crowd control situation when the person engaging in the criminal behavior is not standing still,” the report said. “There also may be other people in front, behind or to the side of the intended target. In such cases, the officer operating the 40mm weapon must be very precise in its application to minimize the risk to bystanders.”
City investigators noted in the report that they couldn’t determine the precise number of less-lethal rounds fired at protesters last year because the LAPD declined to provide relevant data.
The report also described repeated instances where LAPD command staff gave officers conflicting orders, which led to confusion during the department’s response to protests.
“There were times when command staff officers arrived on the scene of a protest and issued orders without coordination with the incident commander, who was supposed to be in charge of the entire police response to a protest. This created confusion,” the report said. “Multiple command staff officers gave orders, sometimes conflicting, regarding the same protest. Members of the LAPD command staff confirmed that they did not always know who was in charge, which led to a chaos of command.”
The city report recommended LAPD implement a host of measures to better prepare for mass protests, but also said officers’ response is made more challenging by the shifting tactics of so-called disruptors in the crowd who are supposedly more violent than before.
“The challenge for police today is how to facilitate the exercising of a crowd’s First Amendment rights while at the same time interdicting smaller groups who are attempting to disrupt the lawful demonstrations,” the report said.
In a statement released Thursday, the LAPD said it would review the findings of multiple reports and work to implement recommended improvements.
Some changes have already been made, such as the department’s training of 7,500 officers in crowd control tactics, the statement said.
“The opportunity to learn from our mistakes, to grow, and become better servants to our community is something that has been embraced and we look forward to leaning into the challenges and being better,” the statement said. “We will continue to look at lessons learned and make efforts to ensure people are able to express themselves safely.”
A separate report by the National Police Foundation reviewing LAPD’s response to protests is expected to be released this month.
The Los Angeles Police Protective League, a labor organization representing over 9,900 LAPD officers, said in a statement the report outlined concerns its members shared previously about being ill-equipped to handle the uprising last year.
“The level of violence, looting, and arson that overwhelmed portions of Los Angeles would have been difficult to predict, but once it was clear that elements within the peaceful protests were intent on destruction, then our members should have been provided the necessary support and resources to address the violence and keep them safe,” the statement said.
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