The LookOut Letters to the Editor
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Policing Demonstrations

After reading your article "Rallying Controversy" (The LookOut - April 14, 2002), I felt it would be helpful to clarify some points pertaining to police deployment practices as they relate to demonstrations of any type and to this demonstration in particular. First, however, I would like to compliment the students and school staff who participated in the rally and march for their exemplary conduct during the event.

As background, and for context only, I refer to some quotes from The LookOut article. The second paragraph of your article stated, "Approximately 37 officers stood at the ready as 120 students descended on a driveway at the back of the hotel…" You quoted the superintendent of schools, who expressed surprise at their attire and also commented that the police were in riot gear. The School Board vice-president commented that she, "...was proud of the students despite the presence of police, which can be intimidating when they are in riot gear."

Kurt Peterson of Local 814 (Hotel Employees Restaurant Employees) opined, "…I think there were far more police officers than they needed out there…I often wonder if it's to intimidate people." School officials further opined that, "Seeing something like this (police deployment) certainly complicates it (relationships between youth and police)."

Police Responsibilities

The primary role of the Santa Monica Police Department in policing a demonstration of any type is to ensure that the individuals involved can exercise their First Amendment right to freedom of speech in a safe manner, free from harm or reprisal. Concurrent responsibilities are to ensure that public walkways and streets are not blocked, to prevent or stop breaches of the peace, to ensure the physical safety of all persons, and finally, to protect property.

To do this, we have an obligation to deploy adequate numbers of personnel in proper equipment. The only additional equipment that the officers wore on this deployment was helmets with face shields. It is a historical fact that at times, and very suddenly, demonstrations can erupt with sporadic violence, and at times objects are thrown at property and at the police.

Failing to deploy police in adequate numbers and without proper protective equipment is the police equivalent of medical malpractice. If a situation turns violent, it is too late to secure either protective equipment or adequate numbers of personnel before people are harmed. Poor police preparation can easily lead to unnecessary applications of force and the premature use of force multipliers (batons and chemical agents).

Event/Demonstrator Information

Our information indicated that this exercise of First Amendment rights was to involve students and faculty of Santa Monica High School, along with members of Local 814 (which according to our records has held 19 demonstrations since 1997 directed at hotels in Santa Monica).

When determining staffing levels, we research prior experiences with participant groups. In a demonstration held in August of 2000 by Local 814, 56 demonstrators were peaceably arrested after committing a planned act of civil disobedience to local laws. An earlier demonstration involving Local 814, in June of 2000, resulted in the peaceful arrest of 24 demonstrators. Of those 80 persons arrested in these two demonstrations alone, only 9 were Santa Monica residents, 47 lived elsewhere in L.A. County, 18 lived outside L.A. County and 6 lived out of state. So, our information and orientation were that this was not to be a solely student generated and populated event.

We received further information in our pre-event planning intelligence phase that the participants in this First Amendment demonstration would number from as few as 100 persons to as many as 300 persons. Sources opined that student demonstrators might number from as few as 50 to as many as 100. That left an estimated potential of as few as 50 or as many as 250 non-student participants. While I wish we were omniscient, we are not. Accordingly, we plan and deploy for worst-case scenarios. Proper protection of the public demands no less.

The involvement of students (minors) in an event organized in part by a local union at a hotel that had been targeted prior by this same adult labor group made the policing dynamic even more problematic and adequate deployment even more critical. There are no guarantees in these situations that everything will go according to the event organizers' plans. These concerns were expressed to the superintendent prior to the event, within hours after the Department came into possession of the information.

Deployment Decisions

Based on our information and prior experiences with Local 814, we deployed 35 officers in total for this protective operation. We deployed 9 officers to the area in front of the Doubletree (4 officers on bicycles to facilitate the march and 5 officers on foot in the front lot). The SMPD used a universally approved method of establishing a containment perimeter around a demonstration site.

One of the primary tasks of crowd control during demonstrations is to mitigate confusion brought on by directional uncertainty within crowds. This phenomenon, left unchecked, can lead to jostling, frustration, trampling and other injury to marching participants. It can turn an expressive crowd into a confused mob. The objective, where possible, is to keep the crowd flowing.

Accordingly, we had informed the march organizers that they would not be allowed on the private property area to the rear of the hotel. We used that area to stage the remaining 26 officers in the event they were needed. The officers placed in reserve were only visible to marchers when the procession turned east on Olympic Boulevard. The crowd, at this point, lost its direction and attempted to enter the closed area and had to be redirected back onto eastbound Olympic Boulevard.

In closing, I would like to say that it is our belief that the Santa Monica Police Department's outreach to our school district students, administrators and faculty is without peer in this region. Three years ago, I reorganized our Department to enact a Youth Services Division, commanded by Lieutenant Pasquale Guido, whose entire focus is the protection of youth and the facilitation of a safe learning environment for all of our children.

Our officers' relationships with the students in our City are nurturing, caring, but firm when required. I would say to the school administrators who voiced concern about the police being fully prepared and deployed while performing their responsibilities in a professional but caring manner, your concern is misplaced. A properly deployed and equipped police department that is prepared to protect all persons involved and the maintenance of trusting, nurturing relations with students are not mutually exclusive concepts.

Among the officers deployed for this protective operation are the same ones who spent hundreds of hours conducting site surveys of our schools and working collaboratively with district staff to develop emergency evacuation plans for critical incidents. They are the same officers who will spend their own funds to buy a bicycle for a local youth who has never owned one. They are the ones who give to the Police Activities League through payroll deduction and volunteer their time to PAL center youth.

I have the utmost respect for Superintendent Deasy and all of the elected Board of Education members. They have monumental responsibilities and do great work. We now and will always consider the welfare of our students and school systems one of our top priorities for safety and protection.

It is our hope that they will assist us in educating our students about police responsibilities, so that they will better understand the police role in society. The
superintendent and I have already spoken about the issues discussed in this analysis and committed to furthering our schools/police partnership. I want to thank School Board Member Pam Brady for her concern and intervention in this matter. I consider her one of the pillars of our community.

JAMES T. BUTTS, JR.
Chief of Police


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