Review of the LAPD’s Response to First Amendment Assemblies and Protests

The Los Angeles National Policing Institute, on behalf of the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners, has contracted with the National Policing Institute (NPI) to conduct an independent assessment of the Los Angeles Police Department’s (LAPD) response to mass demonstrations, protests, and First Amendment assemblies that occurred between May 27, 2020, and June 7, 2020 in the City of Los Angeles.

This project will not succeed without vibrant input. Accordingly, we invite community members, business owners, first responders, and others who attended, observed, responded to, or were impacted by the protests between May 27, 2020 and June 7, 2020 to participate in an interview, focus group, or community listening session via Zoom or telephone. See Your Participation, below, for more information.

Project Update: The NPI has produced three final resources:

Interviews and Focus Groups

NPI will conduct this review from a variety of perspectives, including:

  • Community-based organizations and community members
  • Elected officials
  • Local business community
  • LAPD personnel and LAPD staff involved in crowd management operations
  • Mutual aid partners
  • Additional Stakeholders

Reviewing LAPD Materials and Data

NPI will review LAPD materials and data, including:

  • Policies and procedures
  • Training curricula
  • Incident action plans (IAP)
  • Datasets
  • Audio and video footage (including body-worn cameras)
  • Operational information

Reviewing Open Source Materials

NPI will review open source materials, including:

  • News media
  • Social media
  • Community-based organization websites

Conducting a Gap Analysis

NPI will compare this response with promising practices, national standards, and international perspectives. Where applicable, NPI will be offering recommendations for areas of improvement in LAPD policy, planning, practice, training, tactics, command and control, staffing, and resources to better align the department with national best and promising practices.

Providing a Final Report

NPI provided its final report A Crisis of Trust: A National Policing Institute Report to the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners on the Los Angeles Police Department Response to First Amendment Assemblies and Protests Occurring May 27 – June 7, 2020 to the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners in April 2021.

The findings and recommendations from each chapter of the report are also included below:

Finding 1.1: Following the violent Rodney King protests in South LA in 1992, the LAPD made significant changes to their protocols in response to civil unrest, setting a national model for law enforcement policy and training.

Finding 1.2: LAPD, like many police departments across the country had well-developed crowd management policies and practices that had proven successful during previous events. Those policies and practices were inadequate to handle the disparate groups, or to identify leaders amongst the protesters and address the level of violence.

  • Recommendation 1.2.1: LAPD should synthesize the relevant provisions spread throughout the current Department and clearly establish guidelines for the coordination, facilitation, and management of First Amendment assemblies and protests. This single provision should include relevant components of responding to planned and spontaneous events, managing such events, identifying and quickly obtaining additional staffing and resources, determining and declaring an unlawful assembly, crowd management and control, public information and communications, and use of force and less lethal documentation. Other large agencies, including the San Diego Police Department, have recently published similar synthesized policies.
  • Recommendation 1.2.2: LAPD should review national and international best practices regarding the impact of police actions on First Amendment assembly and protest participants.
  • Recommendation 1.2.3: LAPD should consider developing special unit(s) to establish contact with activists and demonstrators before, during, and after protests. As a consequence of the failure of the police to control riots during the EU Summit in Gothenburg, Sweden (2001), the police developed a new special tactic for crowd management. The aim of the tactic is to achieve de-escalation. “Dialogue officers” were trained and deployed to establish contact with demonstrators before, during and after protests and to link the organizers of the events and police commanders. Similar units have been developed and deployed in response to civil unrest in England. Similar units were deployed in Portland during protests and counter-protests in 2019. Following the 2016, civil unrest in Charlotte, North Carolina, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department and community created the Community Conversation Team to deescalate and engage protesters.

Finding 1.3: Although it aligned with LAPD’s use of force provisions and procedures, documentation of uses of force during protests and demonstrations—including the deployment of less lethal munitions—was inconsistent by LAPD members.

  • Recommendation 1.3.1: LAPD should establish a clear policy, process, and documentation requirement for requesting and receiving less lethal munitions, particularly during the response to First Amendment assemblies and protests. Senior level command staff and first-line supervisors made similar observations to the NPI assessment team that nobody was responsible for maintaining awareness of less lethal munitions. Multiple LAPD personnel relayed to the NPI assessment team that officers would “fill their trunks” with less lethal munitions without any documentation of where they were being used, in what scenarios, and who deployed them. This was exacerbated by breakdowns in command and communication but has a significant impact on transparency and accountability.

Finding 1.4: Some LAPD personnel had not been provided contemporary training on crowd management, mobile field force, supervision, de-escalation, or the use of less-lethal instruments prior to the First Amendment assemblies and demonstrations from May 27 through June 7, 2020. Many of the LAPD training bulletins, courses, and directives related to crowd management and control were outdated. For example, the Mobile Field Force Training Bulletin was last updated in August 2006; the Use of Force – Tactics Directive on Crowd Management, Intervention, and Control was last updated in June 2011; the Use of Force – Tactics Directive on Tactical De-Escalation Techniques was last updated in October 2016; the Crowd Management and Control for Management was last updated in June 2007; and, the similar course for patrol was last updated in November 2012.

  • Recommendation 1.4.1: LAPD should continue to serve as a national model for law enforcement by developing strategies, tactics, and Mobile Field Force teams to more effectively respond to these types of First Amendment assemblies and protests, which are becoming more frequent in the City and nationwide.

Finding 1.5: During the initial days of the protest, the number of disparate groups, the pace at which the protests accelerated, and the level of violence precluded the highly trained and experienced LAPD bike unit from successfully completing its mission. As the SAFE LA First Amendment assemblies and protests continued, the bike units were used to facilitate organized movements and rolling traffic stops.

Finding 1.6: The National Guard was mobilized, responded to the City, and were used to protect critical infrastructure and major intersections and thoroughfares. The presence of the National Guard freed LAPD personnel for assignments related to crowd management and control.

  • Recommendation 1.6.1: Elected officials and LAPD leadership should weigh the risk and benefits of requesting National Guard assets sooner in future First Amendment assemblies and protests to support police operations, protect critical infrastructure, and provide a neutral presence.
  • Recommendation 1.6.2: The City should develop and widely distribute a well-coordinated message about the deployment of the National Guard, prior to, during and following their deployment in an effort to avoid them being seen as an occupying force. Messaging should include why the decision was made to request them, where they may be seen in the city, what their assignments may be and when they will be able to leave.

Finding 1.7: While LAPD has clear policies around use of force, crowd management, and other relevant pieces of responding to First Amendment assemblies and protests, they do not have one policy directing response specifically to large-scale, fluid, city-wide civil unrest that turns violent or contains violence.

  • Recommendation 1.7.1: LAPD should consider developing an overarching ‘response to fluid dynamic protests and civil unrest’ policy that provides for the nuances of this type of event, incorporates critical thinking skills and offers decision making models to guide at what points uses of force and relevant tools are permitted to be used by LAPD officers.

Finding 2.1: The nature of the SAFE LA First Amendment assemblies and protests that occurred in Los Angeles between May 27 and June 7, 2020 were ones that neither LAPD, nor other jurisdictions across the nation, have previously experienced nor expected. While LAPD has years of experience with responding to large First Amendment assemblies, mass demonstrations, and civil disturbances in the past—some of which have involved violence and destruction—the SAFE LA First Amendment assemblies and protests occurred during a unique and unprecedented time in the nation. Local and national political tensions, frustrations and uncertainty caused by COVID-19, and the continued national narrative decrying police, contributed to a visceral response by many demonstrators locally and nationwide—including some intent on violence.

Particularly in LA, the SAFE LA First Amendment assemblies and protests were unique in that multiple assemblies occurred at the same time in locations across the city (locations not previously impacted by civil disturbances). They involved both spontaneous and planned events, demonstrators used both social media and messaging applications and were planned and coordinated. Demonstrators used more advanced logistics and tactics to counteract known police response strategies, and they required more police and city resources than protests in the past. The simultaneous needs for specialized personnel and resources across the City to address these more contemporary tactics caused confusion and strained an LAPD system that was accustomed to responding to First Amendment assemblies and protests that occur at a single time and location. In some cases, people intent on causing violence and destruction took advantage of the spanned geographic space and time SAFE LA First Amendment assemblies and protests to wreak havoc.

  • Recommendation 2.1.1: City and LAPD leaders should continue to build strong working relationships and prioritize planning, preparation, management, and training for First Amendment assembly and protest response. First Amendment assemblies and protests have occurred in Los Angeles since the Rodney King protests in 1992 and—given that LA is the second most populous city in the United States—will likely continue to take place. The LAPD and the City of Los Angeles should continue to review the totality of the 2020 protests and demonstrations and the impact on the city and the department in an effort learn from, plan and prepare for future incidents and to identify strategies and systems that worked in allowing freedom of expression while also protecting the public.
  • Recommendation 2.1.2: The City of Los Angeles and the LAPD should continue to review lessons learned from other large-scale First Amendment assemblies, mass demonstrations, and civil disturbances across the country and abroad to improve citywide and police department planning, preparedness, and response to similar events so as to incorporate best and promising practices. The City of Los Angeles and LAPD have been leaders in the field in responding to First Amendment assemblies and protests. However, when the peaceful assemblies devolved into chaotic and riotous events, LA and LAPD were not able to quickly adapt and respond. LA and LAPD should collect and analyze data available around civil disturbances, including damage incurred, injuries, use of force, arrest and impound, economic impact and other data collected during civil disturbances to identify systems, situations and variables that can assist in preventing and/or mitigating violence and destruction.
  • Recommendation 2.1.3: The LAPD should have commanders who were directly involved in responding to the SAFE LA First Amendment assemblies and protests write an after-action report (AAR) that includes input from line level officers and up. These AARs—particularly the recommendations—should be synthesized and presented to the LAPD operations and training command staff. Where possible, promising practices and lessons learned should be incorporated into policy, training, and protocol.

Finding 2.2: The City of Los Angeles lacked a well-coordinated city-wide political, policy, communications, and law enforcement response mission to the SAFE LA First Amendment assemblies and protests that occurred between May 27 and June 7, 2020. The City of Los Angeles’ Emergency Operations Center (EOC) was activated and staffed prior to May 27, 2020, to coordinate the City’s COVID-19 response. The EOC was under-utilized for decision-making and strategy implementation in response to the SAFE LA First Amendment assemblies and protests.

  • Recommendation 2.2.1: City officials, councilmembers, relevant City agencies, and LAPD leadership should ensure that a city-wide plan, consistent with the National Incident Management System (NIMS), is used to manage First Amendment assemblies and protests, and that all City agencies understand, and participate in, the development and implementation of the plan. While the City of Los Angeles has used NIMS effectively to respond to natural disasters, the response to the SAFE LA First Amendment assemblies and protests did not effectively leverage all components of NIMS—including establishing a single incident command system (ICS), fully utilizing the EOC, communicating and coordinating messaging through a Joint Information Center, and sharing information and resources across agencies. Planning and training for responses to pre-planned and spontaneous First Amendment assemblies and protests should include elected and appointed officials, law enforcement, other public safety agencies, other relevant government agencies, and relevant non-government and private sector organizations as appropriate.
  • Recommendation 2.2.2: The City of Los Angeles should establish one citywide incident management team (IMT) to lead its response to future large-scale First Amendment assemblies and incidents that involve a multi-agency, multi-jurisdiction response. Beginning in 2009, LAPD established three internal IMTs—defined as, “a team of specialists familiar with all aspects of emergency management. They are experienced leaders, decision makers and strategic thinkers, self-actualized and willing to develop themselves into a cohesive team focused on managing large, complex, high consequence incidents.”  The Citywide IMT should include operational public safety personnel (particularly from the LAPD IMTs), as well as representatives from the mayor’s staff—and other elected and City officials—to ensure collaboration, coordination, and unity of command. The Citywide IMT should also train regularly through tabletop and full-scale exercises.
  • Recommendation 2.2.3: All City of Los Angeles elected officials, and personnel from each of the relevant City offices and agencies, should complete the appropriate level of ICS training if they have not already done so, and take regular refresher courses. A US Department of Justice report advises, “Incident management organizations and personnel at all levels of government and within the private sector and nongovernmental organizations must be appropriately trained to improve all-hazards incident management capability…Training involves standard courses on incident command and management, incident management structure, operational coordination processes and systems—together with courses focused on discipline and agency-specific subject matter expertise—helps ensure that personnel at all jurisdictional levels and across disciplines can function effectively together during an incident.”
  • Recommendation 2.2.4: The City of Los Angeles and LAPD should conduct joint regularly-scheduled First Amendment assemblies, protest, mass violence, and other critical incident tabletop and full-scale exercises. While some LA elected officials and LAPD personnel identified the frequency with which they coordinate in response to natural disasters including earthquakes and fires, they also indicated that there are not enough exercises on other events.

Finding 2.3: Communication within LAPD—particularly in the first few days—was inconsistent between the Chief, his command staff, bureau commanders and field supervisors, and line officers. This created significant challenges regarding: (a) identifying a cogent operating philosophy; (b) determining operations during individual shifts, including when shifts started and ended; and, (c) establishing coordination and consistency between shifts. Senior level command staff and first-line supervisors made similar observations that there was confusion regarding who the Incident Commander was at times, which command post was responsible for final decisions, and what the overall LAPD strategy and mission was. This impacted every component of the LAPD response to the SAFE LA First Amendment assemblies and protests.

  • Recommendation 2.3.1: LAPD should establish a planning team that includes command staff, training, equipment, communications, logistics, and intelligence to ensure plans receive the necessary attention to detail in these areas. Identifying personnel to focus on specific areas of the plan is valuable to ensure that there is full understanding of the resources, systems, and needs and to ensure the viability of the plan.
  • Recommendation 2.3.2: LAPD should update and enhance its Emergency Operations Guide: Volume 5 to address all components of First Amendment Assemblies and Mass Demonstrations, as opposed to focusing on crowd management and crowd control. The updated Guide should include: scalable strategies for, and immediate steps to take when, responding to spontaneous First Amendment assemblies and mass demonstrations; roles, responsibilities, and specific assignments for all ranks and positions as they relate to NIMS; processes for establishing and staffing a Joint Information Center (JIC) that includes relevant City stakeholders and agency representatives; and, coordinating with geographic command centers. The LAPD should consult with community members and organizers, civil rights attorneys, internal experts, national-level experts, and academic experts in policing.
  • Recommendation 2.3.3: LAPD should practice establishment of ICS in different scenarios and should develop lists of personnel with the appropriate training and capacities to fill the necessary leadership positions in each section. One of the challenges LAPD faced initially was the incomplete establishment of a command system that fully implemented NIMS/ICS. The lack of some of these positions—including Planning, Intelligence/Investigations, and Logistics—contributed to the initial lack of coordination in the response to the SAFE LA First Amendment assemblies and protests.

Finding 2.4: The issuing and cancellation of Tactical Alerts contributed to confusion and frustration amongst supervisors and officers.

  • Recommendation 2.4.1: LAPD should establish clear processes for identifying and deploying appropriate personnel to planned and spontaneous critical incidents, including First Amendment assemblies and protests.

Finding 2.5: LAPD did not effectively leverage intelligence and information city-wide—including publicly-available social media—that may have enhanced situational awareness of officers and their ability to rapidly assess multiple venues and deploy resources. LAPD did not fully leverage and communicate throughout the department open sources of intelligence and social media to account for the size, evolution, and adaptability of the SAFE LA First Amendment assemblies and protests. While the LAPD Special Events Permit Unit (SEPU), received permit requests for some of the SAFE LA First Amendment assemblies and protests, many more spontaneous demonstrations did not allow for the development of Event Action Plans (EAPs) or Incident Command System (ICS) plans. While many LAPD commands gathered intelligence on significant First Amendment assemblies and protests—including possibly disruptive groups—it was not compiled, deconflicted, or leveraged across the LAPD to strategically deploy resources.

  • Recommendation 2.5.1: LAPD should work with the community to consider collaborative approaches and technology solutions and strategies that will enhance situational awareness and improve community and officer safety.
  • Recommendation 2.5.2: LAPD should develop a process to ensure that intelligence and information gathered to improve public safety is appropriately incorporated in the command structure. This information should be shared promptly and consistently with the Incident Commander as well as relevant department and bureau command posts and should be factored into planning and preparedness.

Finding 2.6: LAPD should develop, implement, and review MOUs with the LASD and other law enforcement agencies to support and clearly define roles, responsibilities, and protocols to First Amendment assemblies and protests.

Finding 3.1: Although a virtual JIC was established, the review process impacted the ability of LAPD to post timely messages to its social media accounts.

  • Recommendation 3.1.1: The City of Los Angeles should establish a unified narrative and public messaging strategy around first amendment assemblies (before, during, and after) that informs the public about City leadership’s position on supporting free speech during First Amendment assemblies, but clearly defines consequences for those responsible for committing violence or destruction during such assemblies.
  • Recommendation 3.1.2: The City of LA and LAPD should develop policies and procedures that use social media to “push” information to the community and quickly disseminate accurate information in response to rumors, misinformation, and false accusations.

Finding 3.2: The LAPD decision to not fully leverage social media to share information and respond to false accusations allowed demonstrators to control the narrative and overwhelm LAPD on the information front.

  • Recommendation 3.2.1: LAPD should create a clear and detailed media strategy to guide the department’s use of traditional news media and social media, particularly during critical incidents.
  • Recommendation 3.2.2: LAPD should consider leveraging new and emerging technologies including reverse-text alert systems—and continue leveraging social media—to disseminate dispersal warnings and curfew notices.

Finding 4.1: For more than 50 years, LAPD has endeavored to assist its personnel through Behavioral Science Services and aligned groups. In many ways, LAPD should be recognized for its innovative programs and leadership in the law enforcement profession regarding physical and mental wellness.

Finding 4.2: The research is clear that law enforcement personnel are exposed to significant traumatic events during the course of their careers. This exposure increases the likelihood of negative physical and mental health impacts that extend beyond an officer’s law enforcement career.

  • Recommendation 4.2.1: LAPD should continue to support the capacity of Behavioral Science Services, the Peer Support Team, and other aligned groups to assist Department personnel and their families address trauma, build resiliency and support physical and mental health.

Finding 4.3: LAPD, elected officials and the LA community should recognize that research indicates that crowd management and other critical incidents have a significant negative impact on law enforcement personnel, their significant others, and children. This not only impacts officers’ ability to positively engage with the community, a cornerstone of community policing, but also contributes to the cycle of community trauma.

  • Recommendation 4.3.1: LAPD should consider deploying BSS psychologists to the DOC, and COVID-19 permitting, to divisions to conduct defusings and debriefings during extended crowd management periods as well as continue employee and family outreach and engagement activities to mitigate trauma and to connect officers to services in real time. This and other wellness resources for officers on extended deployment should be coordinated by a Mental Health Incident Commander that reports to the Safety Officer within the Incident Command Structure. The MHIC should manage all mental health-related tasks, especially during First Amendment assemblies and protests, while the Safety Officer focuses on traditional components of physical safety.

Finding 4.4: COVID-19, the deaths of nine members of the Department, deaths and serious illness among loved ones, and the fear of infecting family members placed untold stress on the LAPD, and exacerbated the stress and trauma associated with crowd management during the SAFE LA First Amendment assemblies and protests.

  • Recommendation 4.4.1: Recognizing the impact of COVID-19; extended shifts and cancelled days; violence directed at officers; threats to their families; highly charged rhetoric; and loss of public trust and confidence–LAPD leadership, in particular, as well as elected officials and the LA community should recognize the importance of supporting officers and their families during this challenging period.

Finding 4.5: Officer morale has been described almost universally as ‘at an all-time low’. In addition to being the “target” of the protests, frustration with LAPD leadership and inconsistent messaging, and statements and decisions made by elected officials during and after the protests have been perceived as a lack of support for the department. There were significant resignations and retirements in 2020 and early 2021, with some of the individuals citing the combination of the SAFE LA First Amendment assemblies and protests, the COVID-19 pandemic, and anti-police rhetoric as their reasons.

In May 2015, the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing (2015) observed: “The wellness and safety of law enforcement officers is critical not only to themselves, their colleagues, and their agencies but also to public safety. An officer whose capabilities, judgement, and behaviors are adversely affected by poor physical or psychological health not only may be of little use to the community he or she serves but also may be a danger to the community and to other officers.”

“Hurt people can hurt people.”

As the City of Los Angeles, elected officials, and the LAPD work to reimagine policing, strengthen the Department’s community policing programs, and repair fractured community relations, there must be collective action and a concerted effort to address trauma in the Department and the community it serves.

Finding 5.1: LAPD has a history of professional policing, positive engagement, and strong relationships with business owners and Business Improvement District (BID) organizations, faith- and community-based institutions and organizations, and the Los Angeles community, including activists. They were able to leverage those relationships during responses to the SAFE LA First Amendment assemblies and protests.

  • Recommendation 5.1.1: LAPD should continue to identify opportunities to engage community members—particularly those community members and leaders likely to organize and participate in First Amendment assemblies and mass demonstrations—in the preparation and training process.
  • Recommendation 5.1.2: LAPD should continue to invest in community policing efforts including engaging one-on-one or in small groups to build relations and obtain feedback from communities in each bureau. Community members interviewed told the NPI assessment team that the Community-Police Advisory Boards (C-PABs) and BID meetings are important opportunities for them to meet and engage with their local police officers and supervisors, as well as identify and discuss local issues, concerns, and strategies. Particularly around the SAFE LA First Amendment assemblies and protests, these meetings were helpful in sharing information about potential demonstrations and routes.
  • Recommendation 5.1.3: LAPD should continue to engage C-PABs, BID meetings, and other community engagement opportunities to provide the community a voice and meaningful involvement in how its police department operates—including strategic hiring and promotions, training, policy development, and other activities to improve community-police relations.

Finding 5.2: Despite ongoing efforts to improve relationships, the history of LAPD is also punctuated with tensions between the community and the department (as well as narratives highlighting tensions between various communities and the police around the nation). These tensions and narratives continue to inform perceptions of the police in Los Angeles.

  • Recommendation 5.2.1: LAPD training programs on community-police interactions, implicit bias, and building and maintaining trust should continue and build on lessons learned during recent First Amendment assemblies and protests.
  • Recommendation 5.2.2: Each LAPD bureau should continue to identify opportunities to engage community members—particularly those community members and leaders likely to organize and participate in First Amendment assemblies and protests in their area—in the preparation and training process. These opportunities have helped officers and community members in other jurisdictions develop mutual understanding and conduct full-scale training exercises with those likely to demonstrate.

Contact Information

If you have questions pertaining to this project, please contact:

Jennifer Zeunik
Director of Local Programs
National Policing Institute

Chief (ret.) Frank Straub, PhD
Director, Center for Mass Violence Response Studies
National Policing Institute