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Review Finds LAPD Failures Led to Mishandling of Summer Civil Unrest

The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) mishandled social unrest in summer 2020 following the death of George Floyd due to numerous failures and a “chaos of command,” an independent examination found.

“When confronted by multiple large-scale events, it is important that there be a clear chain of command, where everyone knows who is in charge, and those in charge provide clear direction,” the review, led by independent counsel Gerald Chaleff, found. “This did not consistently occur during the protests.”

The Los Angeles City Council authorized the review—by a panel of former LAPD commanders led by Chaleff—of the LAPD’s conduct during protest activity in May and June of 2020 when small groups engaged in violence and criminal activity—which interrupted the ability of peaceful protestors to exercise their First Amendment rights. The LAPD responded with a show of force that injured hundreds of people—including officers—and resulted in mass arrests without plans for transporting or jailing the detained individuals.

“The lack of adequate planning and preparation caused the department to be reactive, rather than proactive, and inhibited the department’s ability to have better control over the violence being committed by small groups of individuals whose objectives were to create chaos and confrontation with the police,” wrote Chaleff, who also severed as the deputy counsel to the Webster Commission that investigated the LAPD’s handling of the Rodney King riots. 

Los Angeles Council members Marqueece Harris-Dawson and Mike Bonin initiated the call for the review of the department’s actions. Harris-Dawson spoke with The Los Angeles Times and said the findings were concerning because Los Angeles has been sued and paid out settlements for similar LAPD failures in the past.

“Seeing these problems resurface almost 10 years later suggests costly stagnation or worse,” Harris-Dawson said.

The LAPD implemented mandatory crowd control training after the department responded violently to demonstrations in 2007, but that training did not occur for several years in the run up to 2020. For instance, the review said that there was minimal crowd control and mobile field force training during the past five years and mass arrest procedures were not exercised.

“Based on information gleaned during this examination, it is recommended that the LAPD develop a command-level public order policing curriculum and practice these leadership skills frequently,” the review said. “The settlement of the 2007 Macarthur Park lawsuits required every officer above the rank of sergeant to undergo training on crowd control and use of force policies at a minimum of every two years, and command staff to be trained annually. It is recommended that this requirement be followed.”

The LAPD is conducting its own review of its response to the 2020 protests and said in a press release that another report by the National Police Foundation is expected to be released by the end of March 2021. The department added that it has already taken action to improve its response to protests, including additional training for officers and command staff. 

“After the events of the summer, intensive crowd management and crowd control training was provided to nearly 4,200 personnel, including instruction on interaction with the media,” the LAPD said. “Additionally, to date, over 7,500 officers have received command and control training. Following the implementation of the added training the department successfully managed significant demonstrations and protests prior to and during the national elections and the Presidential Inauguration.”

Along with failures to create a clear chain of command, plan ahead, or manage crowd control, the review also found other deficiencies in the LAPD’s response to the protest activity of summer 2020—including the ability to deal with mass arrests during a deadly pandemic.

“Thousands of people were arrested throughout the protests without a clearly articulated plan for detentions, transportation, and processing,” the review said. “As a result, those arrested were detained at the scene of the arrest for hours, handcuffed on the pavement, detained in buses, and taken to remote locations, without water or the use of bathroom facilities. Additionally, because the protests occurred during the pandemic, officers and those arrested were in close proximity, not socially distancing, many without masks, and thus at risk of being exposed to the COVID-19 virus.”

This failure to create a plan to handle mass arrests has occurred before, with the review team detailing incidents in 2011 with Occupy LA arrests and in 2014 during protests over the death of Michael Brown.

“Lawsuits were filed in connection with both the 2011 and 2014 mass arrests and were settled by the city for more than $3 million,” the review said. “It is unfortunate that the same issues have arisen again and again, with the department being unable or unwilling to rectify the problem.”

The review also found that the department failed to adequately support officer wellness while responding to the protests. Officers were subjected to dangerous conditions that required them to be in peak condition to effectively respond, but they were working long hours without relief that often resulted in sleep deprivation.

“Members of LAPD command staff also were subject to long hours and not afforded the opportunity to get sufficient rest or sleep,” the review said. “The lack of sleep is equally important for command officers, who must make critical decisions as events rapidly unfold. If they are sleep deprived, decision making could be impacted, which then has the potential to affect the success of the police strategy and the safety of the officers they command, as well as the safety of the community.”

In a survey conducted by the LAPD officers’ union in fall 2020, almost 70 percent said the department was unprepared for the summer protests and 40 percent said they were thinking of leaving the force.

“Nearly nine out of 10 Los Angeles Police Department officers did not feel supported by Chief Michel Moore and did not believe he or other commanders provided strong leadership during recent protests and unrest,” according to local media affiliate KTLA5. “Many officers said Moore should resign, accusing him in comments they submitted with the survey of ‘cowering’ to Black Lives Matters protestors, ‘pandering’ to city politicians, and ‘not having an organized plan’ during the unrest, the union said.”

Law enforcement’s use of force and response to civil unrest and mass protests have been in the spotlight during the past several years as increasingly large protest movements have swept 37 nations. In the United States protests surged by 186 percent from April to May—catalyzed by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Some of this protest activity led to cities distributing funds away from law enforcement, including in Los Angeles where Mayor Eric Garcetti said he would not add $100 to $150 million to the LAPD’s budget for 2020-2021.