The Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners reviewed three reports Tuesday that found the Los Angeles Police Department mishandled aspects of its response to last year’s May and June protests against racism and police brutality.
The reports — commissioned by the board and the Los Angeles City Council following mass demonstrations sparked by the May 25 killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis — found common themes of lack of preparedness, training and unity of command.
The first report was released March 11 and was prepared by former Police Commissioner George Chaleff and 11 former members of the LAPD. It 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.
The second report, which was released Friday, was conducted internally by the LAPD and found “inadequacies” in:
— command and control training, especially within the Incident Command System;
— response to new tactics;
— mass arrests, transportation and field jails; and
— record-keeping, which it called poor or antiquated.
The third report, also released Friday, was conducted by the National Police Foundation, which bills itself as an independent, nonpartisan foundation that conducts research into police behavior, policy and procedure. It held listening sessions with the public to help independently assess the LAPD’s response to the protests.
That report found that:
— the department’s crowd management policies and practices “were inadequate to handle the disparate groups or to identify leaders among the protesters and address the level of violence;”
— the documentation of use of force during the protests was inconsistent by LAPD officers;
— some LAPD personnel had not received contemporary training on crowd management, mobile field force, supervision, de-escalation or less-lethal launchers;
— the LAPD does not have one policy to direct its “response specifically to large-scale, fluid, city-wide civil unrest that turns violent or contains violence;”
— communication within the department was inconsistent between Chief Michel Moore, his command staff, bureau commanders, field supervisors and line officers; and
— officer morale is low and has been described as “at an all-time low.”
The need for training reform and better unity of command within the LAPD was a key aspect of all three reports.
Moore told commissioners that following the protests, the department worked to improve unity of command. He said the department “took notice” of the problem and implemented that into training.
“That is a matter that we’ve paid a great deal of attention to in regards to this last year to ensure that the commander’s intent is known,” he said.
Gerald Chaleff — who previously served on the police commission, as well as at the LAPD as a civilian commanding officer and special assistant for Constitutional Policing to then-Chief Charlie Beck — led the City Council-commissioned report and noted that many aspects of police training are “perishable skills” and need to be reviewed frequently.
He and another member of his review team, Sandy Jo MacArthur, said training should be woven through the organization, not conducted through an isolated program. That report added that additional training is particularly needed for less-lethal tools, which officers used significantly during the protests. MacArthur recommended that officers who use the 40mm less-lethal launcher be trained three or four times a year.
Liz Rhodes, who spoke about the police department’s internal report and serves as director of the LAPD’s Office of Constitutional Policing and Policy, told commissioners that the department agrees that more training is better.
Commissioner William Briggs asked the three reports’ representatives if the 40mm launcher should even be allowed in crowd control tactics. Rhodes responded that officers need less-lethal launchers as a way to respond to people in crowds who cause violence by throwing rocks, fireworks and bleach at officers. Chaleff and the National Police Foundation’s Frank Straub agreed that the launcher was necessary in some situations, and that the issue is whether officers have adequate training to use it.
The LAPD’s report said more than 2,600 rounds of the 40mm launcher were used during the protests. Demonstrators reported being struck in the head and face, and sustaining significant injuries, with some requiring surgery. A number of lawsuits were filed, alleging plaintiffs were injured by police while peacefully protesting. Chaleff’s report noted that not all people who were struck by less-lethal rounds were engaged in criminal behavior.
Rhodes told commissioners that the department began policy revisions on the use of force and public education in an effort to increase public trust and transparency. She said the changes include having training on body-worn video begin in the police academy.
The LAPD internal report includes recommendations on incident command structure, communications internally and externally, deployment and mobilization tactics, the use of plainclothes officers, the use of force and les-lethal launchers, arrests, transportation, field jails and more.
Similar to the other two reports, the internal review also found problems with multiple commanding officers giving conflicting orders. It said that unity-of-command issues “caused confusion during an already chaotic situation.”
Chaleff’s report recommends a new position, called the Strategic Emergency Manager, to be responsible for the department’s preparedness for protests, as well as earthquakes, floods and other emergency situations.
The National Police Foundation’s report asks the department to consider a “police dialogue unit or community conversation team” that would be at the forefront of the response to engage with protesters and resolve the situation.
Rhodes said the department’s position is to have a more broad-based responsibility to preparedness, instead of one unit or individual, as suggested by the other two reports.
All three reports also recommend updates to department policies, such as policies regarding establishing field jails and detaining protesters.
The National Police Foundation recommended the department bring all its policies into one document that can be accessed by the public, so activists and community members have a clear understanding of the use-of-force policy and other policies that relate to protests. Chaleff said he agreed with that recommendation, but also called for an update to the department’s policies.
“The reports that are offered to us today are critical for offering a deeper understanding and context to the LAPD’s response to the civil unrest and protests that took place last year in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd,” Commission President Eileen Decker said. “Perhaps more importantly, the reports provide the commission and city leadership with a roadmap forward, a path for improvement for the LAPD and for the city of Los Angeles.”
Commissioners voted to forward the reports to Mayor Eric Garcetti and the City Council and have the LAPD create a report within two weeks consolidating all the reports’ recommendations and ranking them by priority.
“We’ve got to put a framework together of taking our existing service training plan and put this on and blend it in .. so (we can) move forward in a productive way,” Moore said.
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