Trump Protests Could Have Been Handled Better, Phoenix Police Say

PHOENIX (CN) – The Phoenix Police Department could have used more communication in dispersing crowds outside a rally held by President Trump in downtown Phoenix this past summer that erupted in violence, according to a report issued late Monday.

The agency issued its final report on how its officers handled protests outside of the Aug. 22, 2017, rally.

Officers used pepper spray and other nonlethal weapons on lingering crowds after they were hit with water bottles and rocks thrown by protesters, Phoenix police say.

Images of the chaotic scene drew criticism of the agency and prompted a lawsuit by the ACLU of Arizona in November seeking public records concerning the response.

Police Chief Jeri Williams said in a letter to City Manager Ed Zuercher that some of the criticism lodged against the department was about whether it provided clear directions to the crowd outside the rally that numbered thousands.

“I take responsibility with respect to listening to both sides, clearly self-examining our work, and leading the department,” Williams wrote. “I still believe the actions of our officers reflected the direction I gave them: be professional, decisive and immediately reactive. The tragedies that happened in other cities did not happen in Phoenix.”

She identified that the department needs to expand its means of communication during events like this, as well as reporting its actions to the media.

“We must increase our use of communication platforms to educate and inform the community on acceptable and unacceptable conduct with repetitive messages carried out as often as possible before an event,” Williams wrote.

She said officers should use more bullhorns to relay the messages, and post real-time statements to social media outlets.

The agency must also “(i)mprove reporting of tools that were used during the operation, particularly those used only during critical crowd control efforts, such as smoke, gas and impact projectiles,” Williams wrote.

The Phoenix Police Department only had six days to prepare for the presidential rally, compared to the similarly logistics-heavy Super Bowl, which the city hosted in 2015 after 18 months of preparation.

According to the ACLU of Arizona, the report confirms that police did not warn protesters of its plan to use nonlethal force.

“The Phoenix Police Department did not protect the First Amendment rights of protesters and caused many people to go home with cuts, bruises, and other injuries,” said ACLU of Arizona Legal Director Kathy Brody in a statement. “There are many videos of officers attacking protesters with pepper spray and projectiles at a dangerously close range. It is shocking and disheartening that the department determined this excessive use of force was justified.”

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